NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Overview:
Event: UNOH 200, Race 17 of 23 (Race 1 in the Round of 10), 200 Laps – 55/55/90; 106.6 Miles
Location: Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway (0.533-mile oval)
Date/Broadcast: Sept. 17, 2020 at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR 90
What You Need to Know:
- Christian Eckes enters the 2020 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series’ postseason field as the eighth seed on the 10-driver playoff grid. The driver of the No. 18 Safelite AutoGlass Tundra starts the Round of 10 two points over the cutoff line for advancing to the Round of 8 after the points were reset. The Round of 10 consists of Thursday night’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway, continues Sept. 26 at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway and concludes Oct. 3 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Eckes has not competed in a race at Bristol in any series throughout his career, but did take part in a two-day rookie test at the in April of 2019, where he was able to make over 200 laps around the half-mile oval.
- Eckes earned his spot in this year’s playoffs after finishing sixth in the regular season point standings. Six series regulars were able to earn a win this year and of the drivers that did not capture a victory, Brett Moffitt finished ahead of Eckes in the point standings, leaving him as the eighth seed. Across the first 16 events of the 2020 season, the New York native posted five top-five and seven top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 12.9. He ranks fourth among series regulars in average running position (9.206), percentage of laps run on lead lap (93.84%) and fifth in laps led (158).
- The 19-year-old driver is one of just two rookies to make this year’s postseason, joining fellow rookie contender Zane Smith, Smith, who recorded two victories this season, enters the playoffs as the second seed and is 17 points ahead of Eckes for the Rookie of the Year award. They are tied for the series lead earning the rookie of the race award five times each. With a birthdate of 11/10/2000, Eckes is the youngest driver in the playoff field by just over six months (Todd Gilliland, 5/15/2000).
- While this will be Eckes’ first foray into the driver playoffs in the Truck Series, the Toyota Racing Development driver was a key catalyst in the No. 51 team’s owner championship in 2019. The talented teenager made three of his eight starts last season in the playoffs, including his third-place finish in the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway that secured KBM’s record-extending seventh owner’s championship. The talented teenager also can draw on his ARCA Menards Series experience, where he captured the 2019 championship after recording four wins, two poles, 400 laps led, 13 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes, resulting in an average finish of 4.8 across 19 starts. Across 46 career ARCA Menards Series starts overall, Eckes has collected seven wins, four poles, 1094 laps led, 23 top-five and 35 top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 6.9.
- Eckes is paired with champion crew chief Ryan “Rudy” Fugle. Fugle has guided his team to five owner’s championships (2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019) as a crew chief at KBM, including combined owner’s/driver’s championships with Erik Jones in 2015 and Christopher Bell in 2017. The New York native’s drivers have combined for 28 wins, 24 poles, 76 top-five and 114 top-10 finishes across his 152 races calling the shots for the organization.
- Fugle was victorious in the 2013 Truck Series race at Bristol with owner-driver Kyle Busch and across six starts his drivers have registered three top-five and six top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 4.8. He guided Chandler Smith to a runner-up finish in last year’s event at Bristol. Smith drove the same Tundra, KBM-24, that Eckes will pilot on Thursday evening.
- Safelite AutoGlass, the nation’s largest provider of vehicle glass repair and replacement services, will adorn the hood of Eckes’ No. 18 Tundra for all 23 events on NASCAR Gander RV& Outdoors schedule in 2020. With sponsor guests not being permitted in the garage area at races during the pandemic, Eckes has been holding virtual meet and greets on Zoom with Safelite associates in each market. He will conduct one with Safelite associates in the Knoxville market Tuesday, Sept. 15 at 5 p.m. ET.
Christian Eckes, Driver Q&A
With entering the playoffs as the eighth seed and being two points above the cutoff line, will you be on offense or defense?
“I’ll probably just wait and see what happens. The playoff round is three races and a lot can happen. I think there are a lot of points to be gained, but there are also a lot of points to be lost. We have to kind of be conservative, but in the same aspect, we want to go win. We want to advance into the next round, so we are going to just see what happens. We are ready for it.”
You have not raced at Bristol but did participate in a rookie test there last year. With no practice or qualifying this year, how beneficial will having been able to test there last year be?
“The 2019 test will help pretty dramatically going into this race. I’ve never raced here. That test was pretty crucial in me learning the racetrack as well as learning the tricks and tips you need for the setup and driving around it. I’m looking forward to it. The start of the playoffs is going to be a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to the next seven races with my Safelite AutoGlass team.”
Of the three races in the first round, which one do you think you have the best shot of winning?
“I’d probably say either this race at Bristol or Las Vegas. I ran really good at Vegas in the spring time. I felt like we had something for Kyle (Busch) before we were wrecked. Obviously, having a short track background should help a little bit. I’m looking forward to all three really. Talladega is a lot of unknowns, but in the same capacity, we can go win there as well. We’ll see what happens.”
Christian Eckes Career Highlights:
- Across 28 career Truck Series starts has produced three poles, 289 laps led, eight top-five and 14 top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 12.3. Earned a career-best runner-up finish at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on July 18, 2020 and then equaled it July 25, 2020 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City and Aug. 7 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
- Captured the 2019 ARCA Menards Series championship after recording four wins, two poles, 400 laps led, 13 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes, resulting in an average finish of 4.8 across 19 starts. Has seven career ARCA Racing Series victories across 46 starts to go along with four poles, 1094 laps led, 23 top-five and 35 top-10 finishes.
- Put his name on the motorsports map when he won the prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race in 2016 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla. The then 15-year-old battled side-by-side with John Hunter Nemechek for the final two laps before narrowly edging him to the finish line.
Christian Eckes’ No. 18 Safelite AutoGlass Tundra:
KBM-24: The No. 18 Safelite AutoGlass team will unload KBM-24 for Thursday night’s race at Bristol. The Tundra has three career wins: Erik Jones at Phoenix (Ariz.) Raceway (2014), William Byron at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon (2016) and Christopher Bell at New Hampshire (2017). Chandler Smith finished second with KBM-24 in last year’s race at Bristol.
KBM Notes of Interest:
- KBM drivers have collected three wins, five poles, 534 laps led, eight top-five and 13 top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 12.8 across 25 starts at Bristol
- Owner-driver Kyle Busch has collected all three of his organization’s victories at the half-mile oval, winning the Gander Trucks race as a part of his historic Bristol Sweeps in 2010 and 2017 and he also won the 2013 event.
- KBM holds the NGROTS records for most career wins (79) and most wins in a single season (14 in 2014). In addition to collecting a series-record seven Owner’s Championships, the organization has produced two championship-winning drivers: Erik Jones (2015) and Christopher Bell (2017).
- The No. 18, the number which was on the first Tundra that went to victory lane for KBM in 2010, has 21 career victories.