Date: July 18, 2020
Event: Vankor 350 (Race 8 of 23)
Series: NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series
Location: Texas Motor Speedway (1.5-mile quad-oval)
Format: Three Stages; 40 laps/40 laps/87 laps
Start/Finish: 7th/2nd (Running, completed 167 of 167 laps)
Winner: Kyle Busch of Kyle Busch Motorsports (Toyota)
Christian Eckes gave it everything he had to try and come out on top in a late-race battle with his boss, Kyle Busch, in Saturday’s Vankor 350 at Texas Motor Speedway, but in the end came up 0.77 seconds short of pulling off the upset and picking up his first NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Series victory.
Eckes was 0.7 seconds ahead of his mentor when Busch entered pit road with 37 laps remaining. The following lap, Eckes made his pit stop, with both drivers getting four fresh tires and fuel, but Busch displayed his veteran skills entering and exiting the pits and when stops had cycled through on Lap 135 distanced himself nearly three seconds ahead of his pupil.
A two-truck accident slowed the field on Lap 154 and setup a battle for the win between mentor and pupil. Eckes would hang tough, racing side-by-side with the winnigest driver in series history for three laps and momentarily taking the lead with eight laps remaining, but Busch muscled his way back to the front and would cross the stripe 0.77 seconds ahead of his young driver.
The second-place result was a career-best for Eckes in Truck Series action, besting the three third-place finishes he had achieved across his first 19 starts.
Stage One Recap:
- Eckes started from the seventh spot via a random draw in tiers based on 2020 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Series points.
- The Safelite Tundra fell back to 10th on the first lap on the race, but as the opening stage proceeded caution free, worked its way back to the sixth position.
- After crossing the stripe to finish Stage One, Eckes reported to veteran crew chief Rudy Fugle that his Toyota was “free on entry and center and tight center and off.”
Stage Two Recap:
- The Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender hit pit road for four fresh tires and fuel when pit road opened. A speedy stop by the over-the-wall crew placed him second when Stage Two went green on Lap 46.
- After Busch controlled the restart, spotter Tony Hirschman advised Eckes to settle in behind his boss and try to pull away from the rest of the field. The talented youngster remained in the runner-up position when fluid on the track slowed the field for the second time on Lap 63. He reported that the Safelite Tundra was “free landing in Turns 1 and 2, but not bad everywhere else.”
- The Toyota Racing Development Driver made his way to the front for five laps between 71 and 75 before a one-truck accident slowed the field for the fourth time.
- Fugle summoned his driver to pit road for four fresh tires and a full load of fuel. With teams on varying pit strategies, Eckes lined up in the 10th spot for the final two laps of Stage Two and with a strong restart was able to maneuver his way up to the sixth position and collect four stage points
- Once the field crossed the stripe to complete Stage Two, Hirschman advised him to save as much fuel as possible between stages.
Final Stage Recap:
- After the rest of the drivers that didn’t pit on Lap 76 pitted, Eckes advanced up the scoring and lined up second for the Lap-87 restart. He quickly made his way to the front of the field and would remain atop the leaderboard for the next 45 laps.
- Eckes maintained a 0.7 second lead over Busch when his boss was called to pit road for a green-flag pit stop on Lap 129. One lap later Eckes made his way down pit road for the final time for a four-tire and fuel stop, but when stops cycled through on lap 135 found himself nearly three seconds behind Busch.
- The break the No. 18 team was waiting for came when a two-truck accident slowed the field on lap 153, erasing the lead Busch had produced.
- The field took the green flag with 10 laps remaining and Eckes and Busch would race side-by-side for nearly three laps. The pupil was able to get a truck nose past his mentor momentarily on lap 159, but he was unable to complete the pass when Busch would use aerodynamics to stall Eckes’ run. The 19-year-old rookie would settle in behind the series All-Time Wins leader hoping for one more chance to make a pass in the closing laps, but in the end would cross the stripe 0.77 seconds behind Busch.
Christian Eckes, driver of the No. 18 Safelite AutoGlass Tundra for Kyle Busch Motorsports:
What is it like battling with Kyle Busch and coming so close to the win?
“We had such a good truck and thought we were going to win the race there. I came off pit road there after green flag pit stops and he (Kyle Busch) was a straightaway ahead of us. Our pit crew didn’t do anything wrong; he just did a good job getting onto pit road, I guess. Hell of a run by the Safelite Autoglass Toyota Tundra and couldn’t be happier than that. We’re making strides, we’re right there and we’re where we need to be. We just need to put a full race together. This was a good run and my best career finish, so we’ll move onto Kansas, a place I’ve won at before and hopefully win there.”
Did you think you did everything you could on the final restart?
“I definitely gave it my best effort. Looking back on it, there’s probably a few things I could have done and maybe been a little more aggressive side-drafting. I tried to clear him, but he’s just so damn good at the aero game and I’m not yet. Got a little learning to do for Kansas, but overall proud of this team and how we all ran today.”
Do you have to race Kyle Busch differently knowing he’s your boss?
“Not necessarily. I feel like you can race hard. I was laying on his quarter and he was laying on my quarter. It’s fun.”
Vankor 350 Recap:
- Kyle Busch picked up his third Gander Trucks win of 2020 and the 59th of his career. Eckes crossed the stripe 0.777 seconds behind Busch in the runner-up position. Matt Crafton came home third, Stewart Friesen was fourth and Brett Moffitt rounded out the top-five finishers.
- The race featured five cautions for a total of 26 laps. There were 15 lead changes among seven drivers, including Eckes who led four times for 52 laps.
How Eckes’ KBM Teammates Fared:
- Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 51 Toyota, finished first
- Raphael Lessard, driver of the No. 4 Toyota, finished 12th
Gander Trucks Championship Standings:
Eckes, the rookie of the year candidate, remained fourth in the championship standings and after eight events sits 33 tallies behind points leader Austin Hill. Eckes currently sits fifth on the 10-driver Gander Trucks playoff grid with regulars Grant Enfinger and Sheldon Creed having picked up victories this season and being locked into the playoffs.
Eckes will be back behind the wheel of the No. 18 Safelite Tundra when the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series resumes action Friday, July 24 and Saturday, July 25 at Kansas Speedway for an unprecedented doubleheader event. Coverage begins Friday, July 24 at 7 p.m. ET, while coverage begins Saturday, July 25 at 1:30 p.m. ET. Live coverage will be on FS1, Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM..