Date: July 25, 2020
Event: e.p.t 200 (Race 10 of 23)
Series: NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series
Location: Kansas Speedway in Kansas City (1.5-mile tri-oval)
Format: Three Stages; 30 laps/30 laps/74 laps
Start/Finish: 3rd/2nd (Running, completed 134 of 134 laps)
Winner: Matt Crafton of ThorSport Racing (Ford)
After finishing 13th in Friday’s night’s NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Series race at Kansas Speedway, the No. 18 team went to work overnight and brought a fast Safelite Tundra for Saturday’s second event of unprecedented back-to-back races at the same venue. Christian Eckes stalked two-time series champion Matt Crafton in the closing laps but in the end the rookie contender crossed the stripe 0.324 seconds behind the veteran.
For Eckes, it was his second runner-up finish across the last three events, equaling the career-best result he achieved at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on July 18 when he finished second to KBM owner-driver Kyle Busch.
Stage One Recap:
- Eckes started from the third position based on an inversion of the top-15 finishers from Friday night. The talented teenager muscled his way to the front of the field on the initial start of the race and would remain out front for the first six circuits.
- A garbage bag made its way onto the hood of the Safelite Tundra and Eckes fell back to the third spot as he was trying to free it from his Toyota. He would lose one more lap in the closing laps of Stage One and cross the stripe fourth.
Stage Two Recap:
- The 19-year-old driver reported that his truck was “free” before he hit pit road for the first time between stages. After a four-tire and fuel stop, Eckes lined up sixth when Stage Two went green on Lap 36.
- By the time a one-truck spin slowed the field on Lap 44, the rookie had fallen back to the 11th spot. He reported to veteran crew chief Rudy Fugle that his Safelite Tundra was “still loose on entry.”
- Eckes was able to gain two positions over the second half of the stage and would register a ninth-place result in the second stanza.
Final Stage Recap:
- Before hitting pit road, he reported that his Safelite Tundra was “terribly tight in traffic.” Fugle ordered up another four-tire and fuel stop with an air pressure adjustment designed to improve the handling for his young driver.
- The No. 18 Toyota was scored in the sixth position when the Final Stage went green on Lap 67. He was in seventh five laps later when the fourth caution of the race occurred and seventh when the fifth caution flew on Lap 79.
- Eckes reported that he needed the truck to have more turn through the center of the corner. Having neared the window to make it to the end of the race on fuel, Fugle elected to take his final set of tires and make one more swing at improving the handling for his driver.
- The Safelite Tundra restarted 20th on Lap 83 and narrowly missed a 12-truck pile up in the middle of the field which brought out the red flag.
- When another caution occurred on lap 95, the top trucks that didn’t pit when the No. 18 team made their way to their pit stalls for their final set of sticker tires.
- Eckes would take the Lap-88 restart from the sixth position and would remain there until he gained three spots on a restart with 25 laps remaining.
- After another quick caution flew, the Toyota Racing Development driver had another strong restart and moved into the second position behind Crafton with just over 20 laps remaining. He would ride in Crafton’s tracks for the remainder of the race, closing to his bumper a few times but was never able to make a pass.
- The second-place result equaled Eckes career-best finish that he achieved last Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway.
Christian Eckes, driver of the No. 18 Safelite Tundra for Kyle Busch Motorsports:
What was the battle like with Matt Crafton in the closing laps?
“I thought I got a little tight, but I got a hole in the nose and just got tight behind him (Matt Crafton). Overall, just what a comeback for our Safelite Tundra team. We sucked yesterday. I can’t sugar coat it; we were terrible. Rudy (Fugle, crew chief) and the guys worked really, really hard last night and this morning to get it better. We still started the race a little bit off, but the truck came to us and was perfect at the end. I just got a little tight behind him. I was good in one corner and not the other. Just need to get back to the lab and get a little better I guess.”
Rudy said he wants you angry when you finish second, is that anger there today?
“Yeah, it’s not as much anger as last week. At the same time, it’s definitely a little disappointing. It’s hard to be disappointed after how we ran yesterday. Just ready for Michigan.”
How redeeming is it to have a performance like this after yesterday?
“I won’t sugar coat it; we were absolutely terrible yesterday. 13th is not representative of how good this team is or how good I am. We talked a lot about it last night. Rudy (Fugle, crew chief) made some really good changes. We started okay today. We weren’t perfect yet and that last run, actually after that pit stop, we got pretty good. I just got a little bit tight, which was the opposite of what we were fighting all day. Definitely feels good. Obviously, I wish we could have won there and I have a little bit of work to do to get through traffic. Struggled with the same thing last week. Have a little work to do, but at the same time, really proud of my team to rebound the way we did.”
Is there anything you learned or would do differently after chasing Matt Crafton in the closing laps?
“Just trying to find air. We had a hole in the nose and that didn’t really help the aero situation, but at the same time, just have to figure out how to get around him. When they go to aero-block me and take away my lane, I just have to rip the top or do something different. Got close a few times and even had a shot there coming to the checkers, but just needed a couple more feet.”
Do you feel your team is improving at the right time to get ready for the Playoffs?
“Yeah, absolutely. The first three races back were circumstantial. Charlotte we were just bad, we were about as bad as last night. The first two races we ran good, but we wrecked. I feel like we’ve had the speed, we’ve had the promise to show results, we just haven’t been following through. The last seven races, we’ve been able to minimize mistakes and have done a good job to get in good position and get points.”
How has your relationship with Rudy Fugle evolved through some of this adversity?
“Me and Rudy (Fugle, crew chief) deal with adversity pretty well. We’re getting stronger, we’re building chemistry and we’re building better trucks. We’re doing everything right; we just need to get one spot better.”
e.p.t 200 Recap:
- Crafton picked up his first victory of the 2020 season beating Eckes by 0.324 seconds. Grant Enfinger, Tanner Gray and Ben Rhodes rounded out the top-five.
- The race featured nine cautions for a total of 38 laps. There were 15 lead changes among nine drivers, including Eckes who led once for six laps.
How Eckes’ KBM Teammates Fared:
- Brandon Jones, driver of the No. 51 Toyota, finished eighth
- Raphael Lessard, driver of the No. 4 Toyota, finished 11th
Gander Trucks Championship Standings:
Eckes, the rookie of the year candidate, ranks third in the championship standings and after 10 events sits 50 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 on Friday, Aug. 7, 2020, at Michigan International Speedway. Live coverage will be on FS1, Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM at 6 p.m. ET.