Chandler Smith has scored five top-five finishes in five ARCA Menards Series starts in 2019.
Most 16-year-olds have the desire to get their driver’s license and take to their neighborhood roads, getting back and forth to school, maybe to a job, and of course, cruising through town with their friends.
Chandler Smith turns 17 on June 26. And he’s already earned his first career win in the ARCA Menards Series, that coming in just his fifth series appearance, a race at Madison International Speedway in Wisconsin.
That win came when he was just 15.
Smith (No. 20 Craftsman/828 Logistics Toyota) would score another win later in the season at Salem Speedway, where he led 199 of the race’s 200 laps. He led more laps than any other driver on the ARCA tour last season despite running only nine of the series’ 20 races.
He’s picked up where he left off in 2019, too. He won last month at Toledo Speedway and backed it up with another dominant win at Madison last Friday night, his second consecutive win at that venue.
One of those to take notice of Smith’s success as a teenager is Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion and NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series team owner Kyle Busch. Busch signed Smith to run a limited schedule in his NASCAR Trucks and Super Late Models this season. Smith made his debut last Sunday at Iowa Speedway, where he started from the pole and led 55 laps before a pit road penalty sent him to the tail of the field and resulted in an eighth-place finish.
Smith is appreciative of the opportunities he’s been presented.
“It’s very humbling to have all of these opportunities on the table, and I can pick and choose what pathway I am going to take,” Smith said. “I am grateful for all of the people around me. I have finally gotten to the age and the maturity when I realize this is a big deal. There is no one I know that is my age that has the opportunities I have. I have some bigger opportunities than some Cup drivers right now. I am really trying to stay humble about it.”
Busch, who has won 206 NASCAR races in his brilliant career to this point — 55 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, 95 NASCAR Xfinity Series and 56 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series — has been very outspoken about the performance of the young drivers he has piloting his trucks this season. Smith knows he may not be immune to those comments if he doesn’t match his potential.
“I don’t think it adds pressure at all,” Smith said. “Kyle Busch Motorsports was unstoppable three years ago. When you have drivers that aren’t winning in the very best stuff, he has a valid point. If I don’t do good, I would go up and ask him what I did wrong. I will deserve it. I want to make sure I am aware of what I am doing wrong so I can fix it.”
Despite both having very busy schedules that rarely have them crossing paths, the two have had a chance to talk a little.
“We just had a general conversation and got to know each other a little bit,” Smith said. “We didn’t even really talk racing that much, but when we did it was team owner to driver and driver to driver. I wouldn’t say he’s really intense. Maybe he was a couple of years ago, but he’s loosened up a little bit. I’d say he’s a pretty cool dude overall.”
Smith will be making his first appearance at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway on Saturday. ARCA rules prohibit drivers under 18 years of age from racing on most tracks over 1 mile in length, but Gateway is an exception to that rule. Smith will be doing double duty, too, competing in Saturday’s ARCA Menards Series Day to Day Coffee 150 (7:30 p.m. ET on MAVTV), then following it with the CarShield 200 (10 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) for the Gander Trucks. It will be a long day for everyone, but especially long for Smith.
“I think it’s going to be all mental,” Smith said. “You are going to have to want to have the drive to do it. If you are like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to do that?’ because if you have that attitude you are going to suck at it,” he said. “I’ve never been to the track before. I know you need to be patient and hit your marks there. There is definitely going to be a big learning curve. I have never raced on a track like that before. I have practiced there a little on the simulator. I have a good bit of laps under me and I have a general idea so when we get there so I will know what to do.”
It will be the first time Smith, from Talking Rock, Georgia, will be in the St. Louis area. He may be interested in seeing some of the sights the city has to offer but plans on staying focused on why he’s there.
“There are two sides of it,” he said. “One, it’s my job, and we aren’t there for play time. But the other side of it is I am a teenager, and there are some things I would like to go and see. Not many teenagers get the opportunity to do this. But I want to focus on the reason I am there. We always have the offseason to go and check out the things we want to go see and be a tourist.”
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