By Bob Pockrass
FOX Sports NASCAR Writer 

MADISON, Ill. — You’ve probably seen videos of minor-leaguers getting called up to the big leagues.

Well, NASCAR driver Zane Smith doesn’t have any video because his call-up this week was so unexpected. When Smith got the call Thursday afternoon from RFK Racing driver/team co-owner Brad Keselowski, his knees nearly buckled. And he still woke up Friday trying to figure out if it had been a dream.

It certainly wasn’t. Smith stepped into the RFK Racing No. 17 Cup car on Friday at World Wide Technology Raceway (known as Gateway) as a substitute for Chris Buescher, who will miss this weekend’s race after testing positive for COVID-19.

Zane Smith on his opportunity to race in a Cup car

Zane Smith said he woke up this morning realizing that the opportunity he’s getting this weekend in a Cup car wasn’t a dream.

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“It’s obviously super cool,” Smith said Friday at Gateway. “It’s more like, ‘Dude, what am I doing right now?’ Literally 10 years ago, I was collecting a Brad Keselowski diecast, and now he’s calling me to put me in his Cup car. … It’s just unreal.”

Smith has won three races in NASCAR’s truck series (viewed much like Double-A in baseball) this season and is considered one of the top Cup prospects. He turns 23 next Thursday and had no idea when his Cup debut would be prior to that phone call from Keselowski.

“My phone was ringing, and it was Brad, and I answered, and he basically asked me if I wanted to make my Cup debut,” Smith said. “That’s something you literally dream of since you’re a little kid. The knees about buckled, and I was just so happy. … It’s just been insane from there on.”

Smith drives a Ford for Front Row Motorsports in the trucks, but the manufacturer logo on the RFK Cup car is about the only thing that is similar.

Having never been in a Cup car for practice or testing, Smith got 30 minutes of time Friday morning in the Ford racing simulator to try to prepare for the 1.25-mile track. He also was fitted for a mold to put in Keselowski’s seat insert to help him feel secure in the car.

“It’s just been such a crazy 24 hours now,” Smith said. “I started my day at about 5 a.m. and realized it wasn’t a dream and headed to sim, got about 30 minutes of sim in a Cup car. And then [we] did about half a mold inside of Brad’s mold, and just trying to do everything we can — obviously as last-minute as it gets.”

Smith was 26th of 36 cars in practice Friday. He will start second in the truck race.

“I was definitely a fish out of water,” Smith said of the Cup car. “I am still probably a fish out of water. … They’re a lot harder to drive, for sure. I just have so much to learn.”

Zane Smith on stepping up to sub for Chris Buescher

Zane Smith says he got about 30 minutes of simulator time Friday in a Cup car. Less than 24 hours earlier, he says his knees buckled when Brad Keselowski called to ask him to fill in.

His goal Sunday will be to complete all the laps and “be as much of a sponge as possible.”

“I am in no position to go over in that garage and drive the crap out of it,” he said. “I would love to. But this is a huge opportunity they’re giving me.

He also noted that he doesn’t want to “go wreck the thing just from my inexperience. 

“Yeah, I’m slow right now. But you’re going to see me on eggshells for the first little bit. I don’t want to be that guy.”

Bob Pockrass has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s. He joined FOX Sports in 2019 following stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @bobpockrass. Looking for more NASCAR content? Sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass!

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