NASCAR: Ford lose their top young driver for 2024

Zane Smith, Front Row Motorsports, Ford, NASCAR (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)
Zane Smith, Front Row Motorsports, Ford, NASCAR (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images) /

Zane Smith’s contract with Trackhouse Racing Team means he will be leaving Ford, leaving them without arguably their top driver in the lower NASCAR series for 2024.

After recording back-to-back finishes of second place in the NASCAR Truck Series championship standings with GMS Racing in 2020 and 2021, Zane Smith faced an uncertain future. Having lost his ride, he made more than 100 phone calls trying to get back into a truck/car in 2022. One team returned his call.

That team, Front Row Motorsports, were immediately rewarded. The 24-year-old Huntington Beach, California native put together a four-win 2022 campaign en route to a championship, and during the season, he signed an extension to remain with the organization through 2026.

In 2023, another multi-win season has him in a solid position to defend his title. But having been informed that Front Row Motorsports would be moving forward with Michael McDowell and Todd Gilliland as their full-time Cup Series drivers in 2024, he was granted permission to seek a ride elsewhere.

Given Smith’s history, few doubted his ability to put pen to paper, even if he was the one making the phone calls for the second time in the last three years.

Although the team he was targeting, Trackhouse Racing Team, for a Cup seat were known to be at capacity for 2024, having re-signed both Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez and added Shane van Gisbergen as well, he signed a multi-year contract with the organization.

This deal will begin with him being loaned out to Spire Motorsports, which purchased a third charter from Live Fast Motorsports, for the 2024 NASCAR Cup Series season.

Now the former Chevrolet driver is set to switch back from Ford to Chevrolet after having been arguably the top young prospect in Ford’s talent pipeline.

While Smith had never competed full-time in the Xfinity Series, this is somewhat of a blow to Ford. Their top Xfinity Series drivers are currently Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Cole Custer and Riley Herbst.

Custer has already been demoted from the Cup Series after spending three underwhelming seasons there, and Herbst has yet to win a race in four seasons in top-tier Xfinity Series equipment. He even failed to qualify for the playoffs for the first time in 2023 and is largely viewed as a pay driver.

If Stewart-Haas Racing’s Aric Almirola opts to retire after 2023 or even 2024, to whom will Ford turn? They have already struggled throughout the 2023 Cup Series season as it is, and losing arguably their best young prospect certainly doesn’t help.

It is worth mentioning that Ford will be adding Justin Haley, who made the rather surprising announcement that he will be leaving Chevrolet and Kaulig Racing to join Rick Ware Racing at the end of the year.

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Haley is viewed by many as a potential successor to Brad Keselowski at RFK Racing down the road, given the technical alliance between the two organizations. Like Smith’s move, Haley’s move is viewed as one requiring patience in an effort to reap long-term benefits with a top team.