Event: Gander Trucks 200 (Race 23 of 23)
Series: NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series
Location: Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway (1.5-mile oval)
Format: Three Segments; 30 laps/30 laps/74 laps
Start/Finish: 2nd/3rd (Running, completed 134 of 134 laps)
Winner: Austin Hill of Hattori Racing Enterprises (Toyota)
After rain delayed the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway into the late evening hours, Christian Eckes posted a third-place finish to clinch the owner championship for Kyle Busch Motorsports’ No. 51. Over the course of the 2019 season, the No. 51 had seven different drivers, including owner-driver Kyle Busch, veteran Greg Biffle, Eckes, Brandon Jones, Chandler Smith, Alex Tagliani and Riley Herbst. These drivers, led by veteran crew chief Rudy Fugle, combined for six wins, three poles, 15 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes, 792 laps led, an average starting position of 7.7 and an average finish of 6.5. The No. 51 finished first or second 10 times in 23 races, and in the top-three 13 times. This is the record seventh owner’s title for Kyle Busch Motorsports, with the previous championships coming in 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
In practice early Friday morning, Eckes was 14th-fastest in first practice and third-fastest in the final Gander Trucks practice session in the No. 51 Mobil 1 Tundra. Qualifying was rained out and the field was set by the rule book, so the No. 51 started on the front row in second-place.
On the start, the 19-year-old driver was battling a free handling condition, and fell backwards, but Fugle took advantage of pit strategy to adjust on the No. 51 and get Eckes back to the front of the field. The young driver led 26 laps to begin the final stage, then after a final green-flag pit stop, cycled around to third, where he finished the race.
Eckes, a Middletown, N.Y., native, will run full-time for Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2020, in the No. 18 Safelite AutoGlass Tundra. In eight starts in 2019, he posted three-top five finishes, four top-10 finishes and three poles. He had an average finish of 10.5 and an average starting position of 4.8.
Stage One Recap:
- Qualifying was rained out, so the field was set by the rule book, meaning the No. 51 started on the outside of the front row.
- In the opening laps, Eckes reported a loose handling condition, and slid back in the top-10, finishing the first stage in fifth.
- Fugle called the young driver to pit road for four fresh Goodyear tires, Sunoco fuel and adjustments.
Stage Two Recap:
- Eckes started the second stage in fifth, but was unable to make forward progress, falling to 10th within a few laps.
- Under caution on lap 49, Fugle opted to bring Eckes to pit road for four tires, fuel and another adjustment.
- Fugle instructed Eckes to save his tires for the remaining laps in the stage, so the No. 51 finished the second stage in 21st.
- During the stage break, Fugle had Eckes stay on track to gain track position.
Stage Three Recap:
- Eckes began the final stage in the lead. He kept the lead for 26 laps, before relinquishing the lead to eventual race winner, Austin Hill.
- Fugle called the No. 51 to pit road under the green flag for the final scheduled pit stop on lap 97.
- When stops cycled through, Eckes was in third, and he maintained that position through the closing laps.
- The third-place finish was the highest of the teams competing for the owner championship, and the No. 51 earned the seventh owner championship for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
You locked up the owner’s championship for Kyle Busch with a third-place finish. Talk about your run.
“I struggled for most of the race honestly. This place is really tough. It got a little better there out front. Rudy (Fugle, crew chief) made a great call. We were able to lead some laps and come home third. It’s awesome to get another championship for these guys. I’m just ready for 2020.”
- Austin Hill won the race, followed by Matt Crafton, Christian Eckes, Ross Chastain and Brett Moffitt.
- The race featured three cautions for 14 laps and 12 lead changes among six drivers.
- Matt Crafton won the 2019 Driver’s Championship and Toyota won the 2019 Manufacturer’s Championship.
How Eckes’ KBM Teammates Fared:
Harrison Burton, driver of the No. 18 Toyota Tundra, finished 13th
Gander Trucks Owner Championship Standings:
The No. 51 team earned the 2019 Gander Outdoors Truck Series owner championship. The No. 51 has earned six wins, 15 top-five finishes and 17 top-10 finishes in 2019, recording an average starting position of 7.7 and an average finish of 6.5.
The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series will open the 2020 season at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway on Feb. 14. Live coverage of the NextEra Energy 250 begins at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1.