MOORESVILLE, N.C. — NASCAR Xfinity Series rookie Sammy Smith will begin the playoffs Friday night at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
Though, Smith is only 19 years old, he is somewhat of a veteran at the .533-mile concrete race track. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver finished 14th in his only Xfinity Series race at Bristol last September, when he also won an ARCA Menards Series race at the high-banked track.
But his history at Thunder Valley goes farther back than that.
“I actually ran there in a super late model first. I think I was 14, 15 years old, which is very fast,” Smith explained during Tuesday’s media day activities. “I think we were running faster than the old Cup cars were. I think moving up to ARCA and then Xfinity, I think running the super late model helped getting that super-fast feeling out of the way.
“The ARCA cars were almost wide open in qualifying with the tires super gripped up with the resin, you can’t pass with how low horsepower they are and a lot of downforce. ARCA cars are fairly easy to get around there and then the Xfinity car last year was tough,” Smith continued. “A lot less downforce, a lot more power – felt a lot more free. You can kind of move off the bottom. Hopefully, it’s the same way this year. It seems to be a track that you have to hold on and remember to breathe.”
Smith, who enters the playoffs ranked ninth of the 12 drivers qualified, remembers his first impressions of Bristol.
“It was super cool. I’ve been watching races there since I was a younger kid,” he said. “I was always waiting to race there. It’s one of my favorite tracks, so I think there is some fun keys that make it what it is – the high speeds, the banking, the tight racing. Hopefully, it will be a good track this weekend.
“I think they are putting resin down, hopefully, they get it kind of wore in during the Truck and ARCA race that we can move up in the Xfinity race.”
Smith has one victory, four top-five finishes and 10 top-10 efforts in his first full Xfinity Series season. He says adapting to the bigger race tracks has been a challenging transition.
“I never really ran any races in ARCA on mile-and-a-halves or intermediates, so I think that was the biggest thing for me was going from short tracks to intermediates in a Xfinity car,” he explained. “A lot of guys do ARCA and have that experience or do Trucks, so it’s been a challenge that way — just the jump — I feel really comfortable. The more experience is better for me, so I think we continue to do that. We have three intermediates in the playoffs, so we just have to go out and have a solid races.”