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Christian Eckes Clinches ARCA Menards Series Championship with Victory in Season Finale at Kansas Speedway

The ARCA Kansas 150 was a microcosm of the entire season for Christian Eckes. The Middletown, New York native was fast in practice, but engine issues necessitated a change following qualifying. That sent Eckes to the rear of the field for the start, but he quickly knifed his way through the field to the top five.

On a lap 57 restart, Eckes (No. 15 JBL Audio Toyota) challenged race leader Michael Self for the lead. One lap later, Eckes took control of the race, taking over the lead and driving away to, at times, a three-second lead.

“The day didn’t go smoothly at all,” Eckes said. “We had an engine problem in qualifying and the guys had to change it an hour before the race. We started at the back and we were in the top ten in five laps. The car was on a rail all night.”

Eckes night wasn’t smooth, and neither was his entire season.

After taking the championship lead after the second race of the season, at Five Flags Speedway, Eckes fell ill the night before the third race of the year at Salem Speedway. He missed the race, giving up the points lead to teammate Self.

Eckes and his Kevin Reed-led team were tenacious throughout the summer and fall, closing the gap and retaking the lead following the season’s penultimate race at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Eckes became the first series champion since Tim Steele in 1996 to miss a race en route to the championship.

“We even missed a race,” Eckes said in disbelief in victory lane. “The entire season has been filled with drama and we are still here. It’s absolutely incredible.”

Self (No. 25 Sinclair Lubricants Toyota) did all he could do to turn the tables on his Venturini Motorsports teammate. He jumped out to the lead at the start and led the first 57 laps, locking up five bonus points for leading a lap and by the halfway point clinching an additional five bonus points for leading the most laps.

But he couldn’t keep Eckes at bay. Self would end up second, 1.9 seconds behind at the finish.

“Second sucks,” Self said after visiting Eckes in victory lane. “I am thankful to have the opportunity to come and race for a championship. We won four times but we had a lot of ups and downs. I wish it would have turned out differently but I am really happy for Christian and the Venturini team. I just wish it played out in our favor tonight.”

The race was completed in one hour, three minutes and 31 seconds at a record average speed of 141.695 miles per hour. There were just two cautions for 12 laps, the first at lap 40 when Drew Dollar (No. 4 Dollar Concrete Construction Toyota) scuffed the turn four wall and the second at lap 52 when Tim Richmond (No. 06 GreatRailing.com Toyota) spun in turn two.

There was one lead change among two drivers, with Self leading the first 57 laps and Eckes leading the final 43.

Eckes finished 25 points ahead of Self in the final ARCA Menards Series championship standings, with fourth-place finisher Bret Holmes (No. 23 Holmes II Excavation Chevrolet) third in the final standings 165 points behind. Fifth-place finisher Travis Braden (No. 27 MatrixCare/Consonus Health Care/Liberty Village Ford) was fourth in the final standings and ninth-place finisher Joe Graf, Jr. (No. 77 EAT SLEEP RACE Chevrolet) rounded out the top five.

The ARCA Menards Series racing season is now complete, with the next event on the calendar the annual Championship Awards Banquet held at the Indiana State Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis, in conjunction with the annual Performance Racing Industry Trade Show, set for Saturday December 14.

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Trucks

Eckes Stays Solid In Vegas

LAS VEGAS — Christian Eckes has made a name for himself in the ARCA Menards Series with three wins this season; however, do not let that distract you from how well he has done in his short time in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.

Entering Friday night, the 18-year-old had three top-10’s and two top-five’s in six starts with Kyle Busch Motorsports, and he continued to impress this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

In his mile and a half debut, Eckes started the day off with his third career pole and ended it with a career-best, third-place finish.

“You know, it’s definitely cool to come run good. Especially in my first true a mile and a half race. So, I had fun,” Eckes told POPULAR SPEED. “Honestly, this is one of the more fun races I’ve ever raced. I was able to move around a decent amount and had a good enough truck to make moves that it was fun. I look forward to the next two. I’ve got two more this year, Martinsville and Homestead. And just looking forward to those with this 51 team and what we pick up in there.”

While his next start it is over a month away, the part-time driver of the No. 51 is already looking forward to his trip to the paperclip along with his final race of the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“You know, Martinsville is kind of more of what I’m used to,” Eckes said. “As far as here and moving around and stuff like that because it’s going to be huge for Homestead. So it’s a lot to be learned still. I’ve made a few mistakes out there and I felt like it costs us a shot at getting better track position in 16 was really good there, so I’m not sure if I would have been able to fully hang on, but in the same aspect, if we were there you never know.”

If he is able to continue to perform at his final starts of the year, one will really have to wonder what his future holds given how well he has performed.

However, in the meantime, Eckes will look to capture the ARCA Championship before anything else. In that series, he is currently second in points with three races remaining, including this weekend at Salem Speedway.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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News

Christian Eckes Closes in on ARCA Menards Series Championship Lead with Third Victory of 2019 in Southern Illinois 100 at DuQuoin

Christian Eckes (No. 15 JBL Audio/Illinois Truck & Equipment Toyota) scored his third ARCA Menards Series victory of the season with a dominant performance in the Southern Illinois 100 on the Magic Mile at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.

Eckes started outside General Tire Pole Award winner Ken Schrader (No. 52 Federated Auto Parts Toyota), and slipped past third-place started Kelly Kovski (No. 16 Schluckebier Farms/RaceTires.com Chevrolet) on lap 10 to take the lead and led the rest of the way to take his second career ARCA Menard Series win on dirt. He also won at Springfield in 2018.

“I don’t know if you can call me a dirt track expert just yet,” Eckes laughed in victory lane. “I tried to drive Springfield and DuQuoin like dirt tracks last year and burned everything off the car I could. We tried some new things here tonight and I drove the track more like a pavement track and it really paid off.”

Eckes finished in 0.443 seconds in front of his Venturini Motorsports teammate, and defending race winner, Logan Seavey (No. 20 Craftsman Toyota). Seavey started tenth and methodically worked his way towards the front of the field. He utilized lap traffic to work past his other Venturini Motorsports teammate Michael Self (No. 25 Sinclair Lubricants Toyota) to take over second with 28 laps to go. From there Seavey was able to stay within sight of Eckes but he couldn’t close in enough to seriously challenge.

“It stinks coming back here and finishing second,” Seavey said. “We worked our way to the front and caught a good break in traffic to get past Michael but we didn’t quite have enough to close in on Christian.”

Corey Heim (No. 22 Speedway Children’s Charities Ford) finished third. He rebounded from a disappointing seventh-place result at Springfield after restarting second with two laps to go.

“It’s a little bittersweet,” Heim said. “We should have finished no lower than third at Springfield but ended up seventh. We had a great night here today but I would have liked to have started a little closer to the front. If we qualified a little better we wouldn’t have had to have worked so hard to get to the front and might have had a shot at running Christian down for the win.”

Self finished fourth and gave up 35 points to Eckes in the hunt for the ARCA Menards Series championship.

“The lapped cars were tough tonight,” Self said. “I get you want to race hard and stay on the lead lap but you also need to respect the leaders of the race. They didn’t give a lot of room out there for sure. We lost a position late in the race to lapped car. Maybe I could have been a little more aggressive, I don’t know.”

Illinoisan Kelly Kovski (No. 16 Schluckebier Farms/RaceTires.com Chevrolet) finished fifth.

“We’re happy with a top five but we want to come out here and win,” Kovski said. “I only get a couple of chances a year to do this. It means a lot to me to come out and run well but I want to win for my guys and Grant (Enfinger). I know our days of having Grant come and crew chief for us are probably numbered so we want to take advantage of it while we can.”

The race was only slowed twice by cautions, each time for debris. That allowed Eckes to set a record speed on his way to the victory, 105.798 miles per hour. With the victory, Eckes unofficially closes to within 70 points of series championship leader Self in the race for the ARCA Menards Series championship with three races remaining.

The ARCA Menards Series returns to action on Saturday September 14 in the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers Fall Classic 200 at Salem Speedway. Practice is set for 2:30 pm ET with General Tire Pole Qualifying to follow at 4 pm ET. The 200-lap main event will close the night at 7:15 pm ET. The race will be televised live flag-to-flag on MAVTV. ARCA for Me members can follow live timing & scoring, live chat, and live track updates at ARCARacing.com; new users can register for free with a valid email address at ARCARacing.com/login. For ticket information, please visit SalemSpeedway.com.

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Christian Eckes Makes Statement with Dominant Win in FORTS USA 150 at Pocono

Christian Eckes (No. 15 JBL Audio Toyota) made a statement that he will be a threat for the ARCA Menards Series championship with a dominant victory in Friday’s FORTS USA 150 at Pocono Raceway. Eckes took control on lap 35 when the dominant driver in the early stages of the race, General Tire Pole Award winner Todd Gilliland (No. 18 Frontline Enterprises Toyota), was penalized for a blend line violation after his only pit stop of the afternoon.Eckes led the final 26 laps of the caution free race to score his second win of the season and fifth overall.

Once Eckes was alerted by his crew that he would be the leader after Gilliland’s penalty, he kept his head in the game to minimize mistakes.

“Once they told me what happened to the 18 it was all about keeping our heads down and not making any mistakes,” Eckes said. “We knew there was a long way to go and we needed to be perfect to close it out.”

Gilliland, who led the first 31 laps in a substitute role for Joe Gibbs Racing while the team’s regular driver Riley Herbst is racing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series at Iowa Speedway, was disappointed with his second-place run.

“The blend line rule is different in Trucks and ARCA,” he said. “In the truck, we can go above the line with the right side tires as long as we keep the left side tires below it. In ARCA they want you to keep all four tires below it until your between turns one and two. It wouldn’t have been a problem for me at all to keep them below the line. I should have know it but I didn’t.”

With his second win of the season, Eckes closes the gap on his Venturini Motorsports teammate and championship leader Michael Self (No. 25 Sinclair Lubricants Toyota), who finished third. Eckes knows with just five races remaining every point matters.

“We need to be perfect from here on out,” Eckes said. “Without missing the race at Salem, we’d be 150 points ahead. Without the last lap at Elko we’d be within 50 points or so. We were perfect here today and we need to be perfect every week from here on out. I’ve won at three of the five tracks and my crew chief Kevin Reed has won at all five of them so I am confident we can make a run at it.”

Self finished third in what was an uneventful race for the points leader.

“We had a right rear tire go down and we had to pit early,” Self said. “Once the field cycled through and we didn’t get a caution it evened out for us. We weren’t close to second place and we were way ahead of fourth so we were just trying to make sure we didn’t do anything to give it away at the end.”

There were four lead changes among five drivers. Gilliland lead the first 31 laps from the pole, and Chandler Smith (No. 20 Craftsman/828 Logistics Toyota), Austin Wayne Self (No. 32 Win Tron Racing Chevrolet), and Bret Holmes (No. 23 Holmes II Excavation Chevrolet) each led a lap while the field cycled through green flag pit stops. Eckes took the lead at lap 35 and led the rest of the way to the finish.

Without a caution to slow the pace, Eckes averaged Pocono Raceway ARCA Menards Series record 164.534 miles per hour. Eckes’ margin of victory was 13.027 seconds.

Self continues to lead the series championship standings with an unofficial 90-point advantage over Eckes who has now moved into second. Holmes is now third, 110 points back and ninth-place finisher Travis Braden (No. 27 MatrixCare/Consonus Health Care/Liberty Village Ford) is fourth 150 points behind.

The next race for the ARCA Menards Series is the Allen Crowe Memorial 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds on Saturday, August 18. Practice on the one-mile dirt oval will begin at 10 am ET/9 am CT, General Tire Pole Qualifying is set for 12 n ET/11 am CT, and the 100-mile feature event will go green at 2:30 pm ET/1:30 pm CT. The race will be televised live flag-to-flag on MAVTV. ARCA for Me members can follow live timing & scoring, live chat, and live track updates at ARCARacing.com. New users can register for free with a valid email address at ARCARacing.com/login. For ticket information please visit TrackEnterprises.com.

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News

Christian Eckes Rebounds with ARCA Win at Nashville

Christian Eckes (No. 15 JBL Audio Toyota) rebounded from two disastrous weeks to win Sunday’s rain-delayed ARCA Menards Series General Tire Music City 200 presented by Inspectra Thermal Solutions at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville. Eckes took the lead on a restart at lap 81 and led the final 120 laps to earn his first series victory of the season and the fourth of his career.

Eckes led the ARCA Menards Series standings entering the third event of the season at Salem Speedway but was forced to the sidelines with food poisoning on race day. After missing that race, Eckes returned to action at Talladega Superspeedway but was swept into a crash at the race’s midway point and he finished last in the 26-car field.

Eckes was visibly relieved in victory lane.

 
 

Championship Contender Christian Eckes Wins At Nashville

“It’s been a really rough couple of weeks,” Eckes said. “That was about the longest 80 laps of my life. We pitted early and I figured there would be a caution and there would be one guy with four tires in the pits. But that never happened. We still need to be a little better but we took some strides in the right direction for when we go to Toledo for our next short track race.

“I had a feeling in my stomach that we had a car that could win. I knew it was going to be a good day. We weren’t really happy with it yesterday. We were okay with it. We got it closer but it wasn’t where we wanted it completely. We got it close enough but we have room to get better.”

Ty Gibbs (No. 18 Monster Energy/ORCA Coolers/Terrible Herbst/Advance Auto Parts Toyota) finished second for the second time in his career. He also finished in the runner-up position in his debut at Five Flags Speedway in March. Gibbs had a close call at lap 73 when he and Tommy Vigh, Jr. (No. 10 Extreme Kleaner Ford) came together on the frontstretch. Vigh eventually lost control going into turn one and collected series championship leader Michael Self (No. 25 Sinclair Lubricants Toyota).

“My car was pretty good, we just a little drive off,” Gibbs said. “We just needed a little drive off. We had good pit stops and good execution. The lapped cars are supposed to stay on the bottom and he just pulled up in front of me. I tried to get away from him but he was just a slower than I was so it just sucks for him and it sucks for the 25.”

Self finished 15th, and dropped to second in the series standings behind eighth-place finisher Travis Braden (No. 27 MatrixCare/Consonus Health Care/Liberty Village Ford).

Chandler Smith (No. 20 Craftsman/828 Logistics Toyota) was third after starting from the General Tire Pole. Smith was fastest in practice and started from the pole when qualifying was washed out by rain.

“He just had better turnability than I did,” Smith said. “We overloaded the right front tire today. They rolled the center better than we did and that’s where they got us. We learned some things today that should help us at Toledo.”

Carson Hocevar (No. 28 KBR Development/Scott’s/GM Parts Now Chevrolet) finished fourth and Bret Holmes (No. 23 Holmes II Excavation/Southern States Bank Chevrolet) rounded out the top five.

Smith led the first 47 laps before he lost the top spot on an exchange of pit stops. Corey Heim stayed out and led four laps, the first time he has led an ARCA Menards Series race in his career. Smith retook the lead for the next 29 circuits before Eckes took over at lap 81 to lead the rest of the way.

The race was slowed three times by caution, first at lap 45 for possible fluid on the track, the second at lap 73 for the Vigh/Self incident, and the final time for debris at lap 122. The average speed was 95.893 miles per hour.

The ARCA Menards Series returns to action Sunday, May 19 in the Sioux Chief PowerPEX 200 at Toledo Speedway. The race will be televised live on MAVTV starting at 2 pm ET and ARCA for Me members can access live timing & scoring, live track updates, and live chat at ARCARacing.com. New users may register for free with a valid email address at ARCAracing.com/login.

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Home Tracks

OBSERVATIONS: Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 at Salem Speedway

Although there were certainly some people enjoying the rain at Salem Speedway on Sunday, it wasn’t a sight that the majority could smile about.

Just past the halfway mark, the ARCA Menards Racing Series Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 was called as a result of weather, handing Michael Self his second straight victory. The Venturini Motorsports driver didn’t just luck into the win, though, as he was dominant through the first 100 laps. Taking the lead from Carson Hocevar on Lap 27, he didn’t look back en route to extending his gap over the field. The speed of his Toyota shined through when he was able to lap up to third-place before the caution came out.

It could be argued through the past couple seasons that Self has been lost in the Venturini shuffle. While many focused on the likes of Harrison Burton, Christian Eckes, Natalie Decker, the driver of the No. 25 Sinclair Lubricants Toyota has been a constant solid fixture. Prior to this season, he had won three races with 10 top-five’s in 16 series starts. Though running a partial schedule with connection to a development program lacked the focus.

This year, the story is different as Self will run the full schedule for Venturini Motorsports and contend for the championship. With back-to-back victories, he has moved himself up to fourth in the standings despite wrecking out of the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. With Venturini’s success in the series, don’t expect for him to slow down, either.

The championship fight this year has been debatable, given questions surrounding how many drivers are truly going to run the full schedule and how the teams will stack up. Unfortunately, Eckes is going to be out of the equation after missing Sunday’s race due to fighting flu-like symptoms – and that’s a big blow as he entered Salem as the points leader and was able to win three races last year. Hopefully he can get feeling better as soon as possible.

Perhaps the officials could’ve waited longer before calling the race, but there was more rain expected to fall and the grounds were wet given the amount of participation before the event. 

It would have been interesting to see Sunday’s race play out without the weather, given the level of talent at the front of the field. Pole sitter and eventual third-place finisher Hocevar stated post-race that he was focused on saving tires for the second half of the race, while NASCAR K&N Pro Series East Bristol race winner Sam Mayer was in the runner-up spot intrigued to see if the adjustments would’ve been enough. 

Instead, we are forced to focus forward as big drama lies ahead with Talladega Superspeedway next on the schedule.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.