Christian Eckes was dominant in Thursday’s UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway, sitting on pole and leading 150 of 200 laps. But, at the end of the night, it was regular-season champion Corey Heim who drove under the checkered flag in the lead.
Heim, driving the No. 11 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro, was able to hound the rear bumper of Eckes, the race leader, throughout the final run of the event, stalking the McAnally-Hilgemann Racing driver, looking to capitalize on any potential mistake by the No. 19.
The mistake – if you can even call it that – came with five laps remaining in the event, when Eckes hesitated for an instant while lapping Tanner Gray, a teammate to Corey Heim at TRICON Garage.
Although that split-second hesitation didn’t visually cost him much time, allowed Heim to get to the inside of the No. 19 at the entrance to turn three, allowing the Marietta, Georgia-native to clear for the lead.
Despite his best efforts to return to the rear-bumper of Heim, Eckes fell just short, finishing 0.219 seconds behind the No. 11 truck at the end of the race’s scheduled distance.
“This is insane,” said Heim after climbing from his truck. “I feel like I’ve given so many away this year, so to win one at the end like that is so special. Like I said, I feel like I’ve given so many away, but I finally got one back.”
The triumph by Corey Heim marks his third win of the 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season, and the fifth of his career. This victory is special though, as it punches his ticket into the final four, allowing him to compete for a title at Phoenix Raceway.
Grant Enfinger put in an impressive third-place run, despite battling the handling and overall speed of the No. 23 Chevrolet Silverado throughout the evening. Carson Hocevar came home in fourth, with non-playoff driver Taylor Gray earning another top-five finish, in fifth.
Rajah Caruth matched his career-best result in the NASCAR Truck Series with a sixth-place result at the 0.533-mile facility. Ben Rhodes, partnered with Rich Lushes for the first time this season, finished in seventh.
Chase Purdy finished eighth, while Nick Sanchez recovered from starting at the rear of the field to finish in ninth-place. Matt DiBenedetto, who was eliminated from post-season contention at Kansas, finished 10th.
Ty Majeski and Zane Smith were the two playoff-eligible drivers to finish outside the top-10 in Thursday’s UNOH 200, finishing 19th and 24th respectively, after choosing to utilize an alternate strategy of pitting at the end of the race’s second stage.
Leaving Bristol, the playoff-eligible drivers that finished inside the top-four in the race currently occupy the top-four positions on the post-season leaderboard, with Smith, Rhodes, Sanchez, and Majeski sitting anywhere from 14 to 22 points below.
Next for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is a trip to Talladega Superspeedway, where things are dramatically unpredictable and could shake up the NASCAR Playoff standings at any moment, with “The Big One”.