Date: June 13, 2020
Event: Baptist Health 200 (Race 5 of 23)
Series: NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series
Location: Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway (1.5-mile oval)
Format: Three Stages; 30 laps/30 laps/74 laps
Start/Finish: 4th/8th (Running, completed 134 of 134 laps)
Winner: Kyle Busch of Kyle Busch Motorsports (Toyota)
Christian Eckes put together another solid outing in Saturday night’s NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Baptist Health 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender finished seventh in Stage One, fourth in Stage Two and in the Final Stage led three times for 17 laps before ending the night in the eighth position. His second consecutive top-10 finish helped Eckes move up four positions to second in the Gander Trucks driver’s point standings, 44 behind points leader Austin Hill with five races complete in the regular season.
Stage One Recap:
- Eckes started from the fourth spot via a random draw in tiers based on 2020 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Series points. He had fallen back to sixth when the competition caution flew on Lap 16.
- After getting a report from Eckes that there were no major issues with the Safelite Tundra, veteran crew chief Rudy Fugle elected to keep his young driver on the track, as did the top five trucks.
- Over the next run, Eckes would report that his No. 18 Toyota was “a little free on entry,” and fell back to the seventh position.
- Making his first strategy play of the night, Fugle summoned his driver to pit road during a lengthy cleanup for a four-truck accident on Lap 21, looking to jumps driver in the top five in track position for the start of Stage Two.
- Eckes would restart in the 20th position with two laps remaining in the opening stage but was able to get a strong restart and take advantage of his fresh tires. Over the course of the final two laps, the talented teenager was able to catapult to the seventh position and score three valuable stage points.
Stage Two Recap:
- Having already pitted late in Stage One, Eckes lined up as the leader when Stage Two went green on lap 35. He would remain out front for two laps before being passed by his boss, Kyle Busch.
- Eckes would settle in the final spot of a four-truck breakaway from the field as Stage Two went green from start to conclusion, earning seven more stage points.
Final Stage Recap:
- Before hitting pit road between stages, the Toyota Racing Development driver communicated to Fugle that his truck was still “free on entry,” but “center/off was good.” The over-the-wall crew administered a four-tire and fuel stop and maintained the fourth position when the Final Stage went green on lap 66.
- On the restart another competitor got loose under Eckes and slid up the racetrack making slight contact with the Safelite Tundra. With his momentum slowed, he would fall back to the 10th position one lap later and lost two more when the fifth caution of the night slowed the field on Lap 71.
- Eckes communicated that the contact and subsequent damage had made his Toyota “really tight,” so Fugle summoned him to pit road. The over-the-wall crew put on four fresh tires and took time to repair the minor damage.
- When the field went back green on Lap 76, the New York native was scored in the 25th position. Over the course of the next 20 laps, Eckes would methodically maneuver his way back toward the front of the field. He had made it all the way back to the fourth position, when the next round of pit stops began on Lap 96.
- Eckes inherited the lead from Busch on Lap 97 and having pitted to repair the damage had enough fuel to make it several more laps. With one eye on the track and one eye on some possible storms approaching, Fugle once again played a strategy card and elected to keep his driver on the track while in the lead and possibly steal a win if the rain made its way.
- While the rain never started, the No. 18 team caught a break when a one-truck incident slowed the field on lap 104, with Eckes still in the lead.
- With Homestead-Miami wearing out tires quickly, all the other drivers that had already pitted just six to eight laps ago followed Eckes down pit road this time.
- After getting four fresh tires and fuel, the Safelite Tundra lined up second behind Chase Elliott, who elected not to pit. Eckes maintained the second position for six laps before settling into the fifth spot with 16 laps remaining. He remained there when the final caution of the night occurred on Lap 123.
- The talented teenager reported that his Toyota started out tight but was coming to him. The team had re-glued a set of gently used tires from earlier in the race, which Fugle elected to bolt on for the closing laps.
- A speedy stop by the over-the-wall crew placed Eckes in the third position when the field took the green with seven laps remaining. With people being aggressive on the restart, Eckes got put in a bad position and fell back to ninth by the time the field came back to the line with six laps remaining.
- He would gain one position in the closing laps to finish in the eighth spot.
Christian Eckes, driver of the No. 18 Safelite AutoGlass Tundra for Kyle Busch Motorsports:
You had a great race and looked like perfect pit strategy. Talk about your race as a whole.
“The Safelite Tundra was really, really good on long runs. It wasn’t in the beginning, but we made really good adjustments and we were able to get it to that point. We had really good pit strategy, but it kind of just didn’t work out in the end. It got too tight on me, and just kind of got pushed around on the restart, but overall it was a good day. The truck is kind of in one piece, so we will move on to Pocono and hopefully be a couple spots better there.”
Baptist Health 200 Recap:
- Kyle Busch picked up his 58th career NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series victory and second of 2020. Tyler Ankrum crossed the stripe 2.847 seconds behind Busch in the runner-up position. Ross Chastain came home third, Chase Elliott was fourth and Johnny Sauter rounded out the top-five finishers
- The race featured seven cautions for a total of 34 laps. There were eight lead changes among six drivers. Eckes led three times for 17 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 11th
Gander Trucks Championship Standings: Eckes moved up four positions to second in the Gander Trucks championship standings. With five races complete, the rookie of the year candidate sits 44 tallies behind points leader Austin Hill. With Grant Enfinger winning two races this season, Eckes currently sits third on the Gander Trucks playoff grid.
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 27 at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway. Live coverage of the Pocono Organics 150 begins Saturday at 12:30 p.m. ET on FS1.