Date: Sept. 6, 2020
Event: South Carolina Education Lottery 200 (Race 15 of 23)
Series: NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series
Location: Darlington (S.C.) Raceway (1.366-mile oval)
Format: Three Stages; 45 laps/45 laps/62 laps
Start/Finish: 17th/5th (Running, completed 152 of 152 laps)
Winner: Ben Rhodes of ThorSport Racing (Ford)
Christian Eckes clinched a spot in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series with a fifth-place finish in Sunday’s race at Darlington Raceway. Eckes sits sixth in the point standings and eighth on the playoff grid, but currently has a 62-point cushion over the cutoff line with just one regular season race remaining.
Stage One Recap:
- Eckes started from the 17th position after a performance matrix based off his finishing position from the previous race, ranking in owner points standings and the ranking of the fastest lap he turned from the previous race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
- The Safelite Tundra was scored in the 16th spot when the competition caution slowed the field for the second time on Lap 20. A speedy stop by the over-the-wall crew allowed Eckes to leave pit road in the 11th position.
- Eckes gained three spots over two laps when the field went back green, and then lost one spot on the final lap and finished Stage One in the ninth position. With his two stage points, he clinched a spot in the playoffs based on points despite not having won a race yet this season.
Stage Two Recap:
- Eckes communicated to championship crew chief Rudy Fugle that his Tundra “got freer as the stage went along,” before hitting pit road for four fresh tires and full load of fuel. Another speedy stop allowed the No. 18 Tundra to exit pit road seventh.
- The 19-year-old driver elected to line up in the third row on bottom. After the restart on Lap 53, he settled into line in the seventh position for the next 20 laps before he began to fall backwards. He reported that the Safelite Tundra was “way too loose.” and would end Stage Two in the 11th position.
Final Stage Recap:
- Eckes hit pit road for four fresh tires, a full load of fuel and a chassis adjustment between stages.
- The No. 18 would restart in eighth when the Final Stage went green on Lap 97. When the caution flew on Lap 103, he reported that the changes on the last pit stop had helped, but he needed more of the same adjustment.
- Fugle summoned his young driver to pit road for four fresh tires and fuel and another chassis adjustment. With the majority of lead-lap drivers remaining on track, Eckes would restart 15th on Lap 106.
- Using the fresh tires to his advantage, the talented teenager had maneuvered his way up to the seventh position when the next caution occurred on Lap 122. With new tires being so valuable at Darlington, Fugle once again summoned Eckes to pit road to get four fresh tires for the closing laps of the event.
- The Safelite Tudnra was the fourth truck to leave pit road and lined up in the outside lane of the second row for the restart with 18 laps remaining.
- Eckes lost one spot before the seventh and final caution flew with three laps remaining.
- While the top-three trucks pitted, Eckes remained on track and moved up to the second position. With the choose-lane rule in effect, he opted to start from the outside lane on the second row instead of on the front row on the inside lane for NASCAR overtime.
- The top lane did not get moving on the ensuing restart and the Safelite Tundra would fall back a handful of spots, finally falling in line in the fifth position. Eckes would narrowly nudge out his KBM teammate Raphael Lessard to earn his fifth top-five of the 2020 season.
Christian Eckes, driver of the No. 18 Safelite Tundra for Kyle Busch Motorsports:
It was your first race here. How was your run today at Darlington Raceway?
“Yeah, we had an okay race. We executed really well the last few weeks and we didn’t have a good result, so it’s definitely a lot better than where we were. So, fifth place is still okay, but not good enough. We need to be a little bit better, but overall, it was a good day for execution for this Safelite Toyota team.”
You clinched a Playoff spot with your performance today. What is your focus for Richmond knowing that you have locked in a playoff spot?
“At the end of the day, we can’t really move any further ahead unless we win a race. Our full intent is to go and contend as hard as we can and be as aggressive as we can to go get a win, so we can get some Playoff points. Definitely makes it a little bit less stressful going into Richmond, and definitely gracious for that. We will just go and race the heck out of them.”
South Carolina Education Lottery 200 Recap:
- Ben Rhodes picked up his third career Gander Trucks victory finishing 0.785 seconds ahead of runner-up finisher Derek Kraus. Austin Hill, Grant Enfinger, and Eckes rounded out the top-five finishers.
- The race featured seven cautions for a total of 35 laps. There were 11 lead changes among five drivers.
How Eckes’ KBM Teammates Fared:
- Raphael Lessard, driver of the No. 4 Toyota, finished sixth
- Chandler Smith, driver of the No. 51 Toyota, finished 23rd
Gander Trucks Championship Standings:
Eckes, the rookie of the year candidate, remained sixth in the Gander Trucks point standings. With one race remaining in the regular season, he sits 95 tallies behind points leader Austin Hill. The driver of the Safelite Tundra sits eighth on the 10-driver playoff grid but has already clinched a playoff spot based on points.
Eckes will be back behind the wheel of the No. 18 Safelite Tundra when the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series resumes action on Thursday, Sept. 10 at Richmond (Va.) Raceway. Live coverage of the ToyotaCare 250 will be on FS1, Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM at 8 p.m. ET.