Rarely does a new driver step up the ladder into a new racing series and thoroughly dominate.
Sure, Davey Allison won two Monster Energy Cup Series races as a rookie back in 1987, but he also finished outside the top ten in 12 of his 22 starts, and failed to finish six times. Six years later, Jeff Gordon would go winless in his rookie season and fail to finish eleven times.
Both drivers eventually figured it out, and both have been inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame for their accomplishments in the sport.
Chandler Smith (No. 20 Craftsman Toyota) is just seventeen years old. He’s yet to run a full season in the ARCA Menards Series, making appearances on the short tracks in 2018 and adding WWT Raceway and Pocono Raceway to his schedule in 2019. He’s made a total of 18 career starts, which for a driver his age may have been unheard of a decade ago.
But that’s far from the most impressive part of the Talking Rock, Georgia native’s brief career.
Smith has won six times, finished in the top five thirteen times, and finished in the top ten in every start but one. He’s led 1,422 laps out of 3,177 he’s completed. He also set a modern era ARCA Menards Series record by starting from the General Tire Pole in each of his first four career appearances.
It’s not just in ARCA where Smith’s talents have been on display. He’s made the leap into the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2019. In three starts he’s earned two top-five finishes and has been in the top ten in all three. He finished a career best second in his last appearance at Bristol, pushing his average finish to an impressive 4.7.
Not bad for a young man not yet eligible to vote.
Smith returns to the ARCA Menards Series for the first time since July in Saturday night’s Kentuckiana Ford Dealers Fall Classic 200 at Salem Speedway. In last year’s race, Smith started outside the front row and took the lead on lap one and led 199 of the race’s 200 laps to earn his second win of the season.
Hard to believe anyone could improve on that performance, but for Smith he thinks he can.
“I guess we just need to go down and lead that one more lap,” Smith joked. “We should have led that lap last year but Gus Dean led a lap on pit road. We did everything else we could do there last year so we need to go get that one extra lap this time.”
Smith will undoubtedly be a challenger for the victory at Salem. Being near the front and battling for the victory will put him in proximity to his Venturini Motorsports teammates Michael Self (No. 25 Sinclair Lubricants Toyota) and Christian Eckes (No. 15 JBL Audio Toyota), two drivers that not only will also be battling for the win but are fighting it out for the ARCA Menards Series championship.
Smith isn’t involved in the battle for the driver’s championship, afterall, he’s only run nine of the seventeen races so far. But his No. 20 car is leading the owner’s championship standings, which means Smith will not be backing down to his teammates as the race winds to its conclusion.
“Every point definitely matters for us too,” Smith said. “We really want to get that owner’s championship for Billy and the team. Everyone has worked so hard to make it happen for the 20 team all season long, and I can only speak for what it’s like when I am in the car, but I think we’ve had the best cars out there. I know my teammates are battling for the drivers championship but for us, it’s all about that owner’s championship.”
Smith’s time in the No. 20 Toyota for Venturini Motorsports is limited by the fact, that at seventeen years of age, he is not eligible to compete on the majority of the superspeedways the ARCA Menards Series races on per ARCA rules. Despite only running about half of the races, Smith has built a strong report with the team and believes that is the secret to his success.
“All of us are strictly business at the track,” he said. “We all know what we want and what we need and our only job at the track is to get it done. It’s almost like we don’t even have to say it. Everyone knows it and we all work towards it.”
The ARCA Menards Series will be joined by the Lucas Oil Great American Stocks at Salem Speedway on Saturday night, September 14. Activities will kick off with ARCA Menards Series practice at 12 noon ET, followed by General Tire Pole Qualifying at 4 pm ET. The Great American Stocks 50-lap feature will roll at 5 pm ET, with the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers Fall Classic 200 set for 7:15 pm ET. The race will be televised live flag-to-flag on MAVTV. ARCA for Me members can access live timing & scoring, live chat, and live track updates for free at ARCARacing.com. New users can register for free with a valid email address at ARCARacing.com/login. For ticket information, please visit SalemSpeedway.com.