Date: June 6, 2020
Event: Vet Tix Camping World 200 (Race 4 of 23)
Series: NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series
Location: Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga. (1.5-mile quad-oval)
Format: Three Stages; 30 laps/30 laps/76 laps
Start/Finish: 1st/3rd (Running, completed 136 of 136 laps)
Winner: Grant Enfinger of Thorsport Racing (Ford) Christian Eckes, driver of the No. 18 Safelite AutoGlass Tundra, equaled a career-best third-place finish in Saturday’s Vet Tix Camping World 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, his first start in any series at the Georgia track. Eckes started form the pole and led twice for 18 laps early in the race but overshot his stall on the first pit stop of the day and had to make his way back through the field. Eckes was running eighth in the closing laps when Chase Elliott spun bringing out a caution. A speedy stop by the over-the-wall crew put the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Contender in the third position for NASCAR overtime, despite pulling to the bumper of the top two trucks he was unable to gain any spots over the final two circuits. The 19-year-old’s third-place finish was the third of his career. Last year, he finished third at both Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway in September and Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway in November.
Stage One Recap:
- Eckes started from the pole via a random draw in tiers based on 2020 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors points. He would pace the field for the first 11 laps before his boss, Kyle Busch, made his way to the front of the field on lap 12.
- A one-truck spin brought out the caution on lap 13. On the ensuing restart, Busch fired slow on the outside lane allowing Eckes to regain the lead.
- The No. 18 would remain out front for seven more laps before Busch made his way back by with seven laps remaining in the stage. Eckes would lose more spot before the break, crossing the stripe in the third spot on lap 30.
Stage Two Recap:
- Eckes communicated that his Toyota was “free off late in the run,” before hitting pit road for the first time. Unfortunately, he was unable to get the Safelite Tundra stopped within his pit box and the over-the-wall crew had to push him back to avoid him a penalty before administering a four-tire and fuel stop.
- When Stage Two went green on lap 37, the Toyota Racing Development driver was scored in the 16th position. When the field was slowed for a one-truck spin on lap 53, Eckes was scored in the 12th position.
- On lap 53, veteran crew chief Rudy Fugle summoned his driver to pit road for four fresh tires and a full tank of fuel. Eckes returned to the track scored in the 14th position wit four laps remaining in the Stage and was able to maneuver his way to the sixth spot when the field cross the stripe to complete the stage on lap 60.
Final Stage Recap:
- Fugle elected to keep his driver on track, leaving him scored in the fourth position when the Final Stage went green on lap 66.
- A long green-flag run ensued with Eckes being scored third on lap 75, before beginning to fall back as he communicated that his Safelite Tundra was “a little free.”
- On lap 94, the Safelite Tundra hit pit road for four fresh tires and fuel under green-flag conditions. When stops had cycled through on lap 102, he was scored in the fourth position.
- He lost a few spots as the green-flag run continued and was running eighth when Chase Elliott spun to bring out the caution with just four laps remaining.
- Another speedy four-tire stop by the over-the-wall crew placed the talented teenager in the third position when the field took the green flag for NASCAR overtime.
- As the field took the white flag, Eckes was tucked in third behind the leaders, who raced side-by-side. He wasn’t able to build up enough momentum over the final circuit to make a move and was forced to settle for the third spot.
Christian Eckes, driver of the No. 18 Safelite AutoGlass Tundra for Kyle Busch Motorsports:
How important is getting this top-five finish after the struggles earlier this season?
“Our Safelite Tundra was really fast on short runs. I felt like we could run with the best of them for about three or four laps and then for whatever reason we just weren’t good past that. Finally, this is a result we can build on – the 22nd, 23rd and 14th place finishes to start the year definitely hurt, but we finally got it turned around a little bit and we can build on it. Hopefully be two spots better at Homestead.”
What does it mean to have a run like this after struggling early in the season?
“It’s huge. We kind of had a ‘coming to Jesus’ moment in the conference room this past week just trying to figure out what we could do better. I feel like we’ve done that and we can finally start trending some finishes together. It will be big for momentum and that’s definitely what this sport it all about. To finish third means a lot and it’s definitely a lot harder with a 40-car field now. Third would probably be fifth or sixth in a normal race. I’m really happy to finish here and just looking forward to the next race.
“How challenging are these races with no practice and no qualifying?
“It’s a lot of preparation. It’s actually a little bit better starting from the pole because you know exactly what you’ve got to do after watching film and stuff like that. You can just hold it wide open and see what happens. At Charlotte we really struggled, starting deep and not really knowing what traffic does at Charlotte or anything like that. Overall, it’s better this week starting from the pole and now we have a little momentum and more comfort back in the truck and it should be better for Homestead as well.”
Vet Tix Camping World 200 Recap:
- Grant Enfinger picked up his fourth career NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Series victory and second of 2020. Austin Hill crossed the stripe 0.215 seconds behind Enfinger in the runner-up position. Eckes came home third, Todd Gilliland was fourth and Zane Smith rounded out the top-five finishers.
- The race featured six cautions for a total of 28 laps. There were 14 lead changes among seven drivers, including Eckes who led twice for 18 laps.
How Eckes’ KBM Teammates Fared:
- Raphael Lessard, driver of the No. 4 Toyota, finished 19th
- Kyle Busch, driver of the No. 51 Toyota, finished 22nd
Gander Trucks Championship Standings: Eckes moved up one position to seventh in the Gander Trucks championship standings. With four races complete, the rookie of the year candidate sits 37 tallies behind points leader Austin Hill.
Next Race: Eckes will be back behind the wheel of the No. 18 Safelite Tundra when the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series resumes action June 13 at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway. Live coverage of the race begins Saturday at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1.