Date: Aug. 7, 2020
Event: Henry Ford Health System 200 (Race 11 of 23)
Series: NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series
Location: Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn (Two-mile oval)
Format: Three Stages; 20 laps/20 laps/67 laps
Start/Finish: 3rd/2nd (Running, completed 107 of 107 laps)
Winner: Zane Smith of GMS Racing (Chevrolet)
Christian Eckes and the No. 18 Safelite AutoGlass team keep knocking on the door of victory but once again the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Contender came up just short of earning his first NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series victory Friday at Michigan International Speedway. Three of the top four trucks got together and washed down the track on the restart in the second overtime, but it didn’t bring out a caution and allowed Eckes who started in the second row on the inside lane to emerge with the lead.
Eckes would take the white flag with the lead, but eventual winner Zane Smith was able to make a maneuver for the lead through Turns 1 and 2 on the final lap and hold off Eckes’ attempt at a crossover move. Eckes would make an attempt to dive to the bottom of Smith into to Turn 3 but got in Smith’s wake and washed up the track. Smith would cross the stripe 0.318 seconds ahead of Eckes to claim his first-career Gander Trucks win.
Stage One Recap:
- Eckes started from the third position based a random draw in tiers based on 2020 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series owner’s points.
- The Safelite Tundra went spinning after getting aero loose on Lap 13 and brought out the second caution of the race. After the spin caused a flat tire, Eckes limped his Tundra to pit road for four fresh tires and fuel with a few extra trips down pit road to ensure that there weren’t any major tire rubs. He returned to the track scored in the 35th position for the ensuing restart.
- Over the final four laps of Stage One, he was able to gain six spots and finished 29th.
Stage Two Recap:
- Veteran crew chief Rudy Fugle kept his driver on track between stages, putting the Safelite Tundra 11th when Stage Two went green on Lap 24.
- Stage Two would proceed start to finish under green flag conditions with Eckes crossing the stripe in the 14th position.
Final Stage Recap:
- Before hitting pit road, he reported that his Safelite Tundra was “too free.” 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 11th position when the Final Stage went green on Lap 48. A few laps into the stage, Stewart Friesen made an attempt to clear Eckes, but didn’t have enough room to clear him and hooked into the outside wall.
- Friesen’s truck caused damage to the nose and left side of the Safelite Tundra, forcing Fugle to call his driver to pit road for damage repair across multiple trips down pit road.
- With several drivers getting violations of the new choose lane rule on the restart, many drivers including Eckes, didn’t line up where NASCAR would have liked them to. After another quick caution occurred, NASCAR communicated that the No. 18 team had committed a restart violation by not lining up at the rear of the field and made them do so on the next restart.
- Knowing they would have to restart at the rear of the field, Fugle summoned his driver to pit road again to top off with fuel. The Safelite Tundra would line up 26th for the restart on Lap 64.
- Eckes had advanced up to 13th when the next caution flew on Lap 72. Fugle made a strategy play pitting for four fresh tires and hoping to have better tires than his competitors if a late caution came out.
- The No. 18 Toyota was scored in the 11th position when a caution occurred with six laps remaining in the event. For the first overtime, Eckes lined up in the fourth row on the inside lane during the choose lane pairings.
- Eckes was able to gain a few positions and moved up to the sixth spot before a quick caution occurred setting up a second overtime.
- After a red-flag period for cleanup, Eckes chose to line up in the bottom lane on the second row. That position would prove to be the catbirds seat as the other trucks inside the top three got together on the restart and washed down the track past him.
- Eckes would gain the lead and hold it until Smith passed him through Turns 3 and 4. Eckes’ last ditch effort would come up short and he would cross the stripe .318 seconds behind Smith in the runner-up position.
Christian Eckes, driver of the No. 18 Safelite Tundra for Kyle Busch Motorsports:
Can you take us through the final restart?
“We started off okay. I got loose out of nowhere, did the same thing last year so I guess I’ll have to go back and figure out why that happened. Kind of put us behind the rest of the day. Got a couple good restarts there at the end, but we constantly fought track position and dirty air. Our truck was just horrible in dirty air. Finally got a shot there at the end. I guess he (Zane Smith) just had a better run than I did and I went too high. He just drove around me like I was standing still. It’s three second-place finishes the last three weeks and frustrating as hell, but we’ll move onto Daytona.”
Is there some positivity coming back from the spin and getting the second-place finish?
“I’m sure there’s some positives to this and how we fought back, but I just can’t see them right now. We’ll just move on. Had an okay Safelite Tundra today and finished second.”
What has been the improvement for Kyle Busch Motorsports this season?
“We’re just bringing faster trucks and we’re unloading okay and I’m getting better. Probably just a combination of those three that have helped us out the most. Just super frustrated. We need to be a little bit better, but we’ll move onto Daytona.”
Henry Ford Health System 200 Recap:
- Smith picked up his first career Gander Trucks victory beating Eckes by 0.318 seconds. Tanner Gray, Tyler Ankrum and Todd Gilliland rounded out the top-five.
- The race featured 11 cautions for a total of 51 laps. There were 16 lead changes among 13 drivers, including Eckes who led the penultimate lap.
How Eckes’ KBM Teammates Fared:
- Raphael Lessard, driver of the No. 4 Toyota, finished seventh
- Chandler Smith, driver of the No. 51 Toyota, finished 38th
Gander Trucks Championship Standings:
Eckes, the rookie of the year candidate, ranks fourth in the championship standings and after 11 events sits 49 tallies behind points leader Austin Hill. Eckes currently sits seventh on the 10-driver Gander Trucks playoff grid with Hill, Smith, Grant Enfinger, Matt Crafton and Sheldon Creed having picked up victories this season and being locked into the playoffs and Ben Rhodes sitting third in the points standings.
Eckes will be back behind the wheel of the No. 18 Safelite Tundra when the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series resumes action on Sunday, August 16, 2020, at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway Road Course. Live coverage will be on FS1, Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM at 12 p.m. ET.