It took some high-level commitment for Christian Eckes to walk away with his third victory of the season in Friday’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series event at Kansas Speedway, after some incredible theatrics on the race’s final restart.
Eckes, who had placed himself around the top-five throughout the evening, wasn’t a contender for the victory until the closing laps of the event, when he lined up on the second row with just two laps remaining.
But, with aggressive driving not unusual for the NASCAR Truck Series, Eckes was able to work his way around Corey Heim and Zane Smith, the front row for the restart, to slide into victory lane for the third time in 2023.
Driving for McAnally-Hilgemann Racing, Eckes shot to the outside lane in Turn 3 coming to the white flag, which allowed him to remain in a proper position to sweep to the inside with a half-lap remaining.
The Middletown, New York native would slide up the track in front of Smith in the final corner, to ensure he’d claim the win at the start-finish line, holding an advantage of 0.363 seconds when he got there.
“That was wild. I didn’t know if I was going to win it or not. We had like a sixth-place truck all day, but with that caution coming out I knew we would have a shot at it, and here we are,” said Eckes post-race. “We haven’t won in a really long time, so wanted to kind of set the tone. What a hell of a way to do the round of 10, second, third, first. Can’t beat that, proud of all these guys.”
With the hardcore battling happening over the course of the final two laps, the top-six finishers each finished within a second of Eckes, with Taylor Gray sneaking through the madness on the final lap to finish in second.
Matt DiBenedetto came home in third place, but ended up just five points short of advancing to the ‘Round of 8’, getting eliminated along with three-time NASCAR Truck Series champion Matt Crafton.
Corey Heim and Zane Smith, who were involved in that three-wide battle with eventual winner Christian Eckes, faded back to fourth and fifth in a matter of just one set of corners.
Carson Hocevar came home in sixth, while Stewart Friesen, Nick Sanchez, Tyler Ankrum, and Jake Drew. Jesse Love, who was scored ninth at the finish, was assessed a time penalty for changing lanes before the green on the final restart. He finished 13th.
Several of the NASCAR Truck Series playoff contenders ran into issues throughout the evening, including Grant Enfinger, who got off-strategy early in the race, but ended up one lap off the pace after a speeding penalty in the final stage.
ThorSport Racing also had a difficult night, with post-season eligible drivers Ty Majeski, Ben Rhodes, and Matt Crafton all running into issues throughout the evening. Hailie Deegan, who did not qualify for the playoffs, also had a tough night, finishing 30th.
Next for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is a trip to Bristol Motor Speedway, as eight drivers will try to clinch a spot into the Round of 4, which will ultimately decide who will have a chance at the championship.
The drivers eligible are Christian Eckes, Corey Heim, Zane Smith, Carson Hocevar, Nick Sanchez, Grant Enfinger, Ty Majeski, and Ben Rhodes.