Event: Vet Tix Camping World 200, Race 4 of 23, 130 Laps – 30/30/70; 200.2 Miles
Location: Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga. (1.54-mile quad-oval)
Date/Broadcast: June 6, 2020 at 1 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR 90
What You Need to Know:
Nineteen-year-old Christian Eckes will make his first career start in any series at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., driving the No. 18 Safelite AutoGlass Tundra for Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) in Saturday’s Vet Tix Camping World 200. Eckes has four career starts on 1.5-mile tracks and earned a career-best third-place finish on mile-and-a-half tracks twice last season, at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway in Sept. and again at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway in Nov., where he clinched KBM’s record-extending seventh owner’s championship.Most recently, the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) driver started sixth and finished 14th at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway on May 26.
Despite having an average finish of 19.7 this season, Eckes currently sits eighth in the Gander Trucks driver point standings due to the fact that he has collected 26 stage points throughout the first three events. He currently sits second in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings, 25 points behind Zane Smith.
Across 15 career Gander Trucks starts, the New York native has produced three poles, three top-five and seven top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 13.1.
The talented teenager captured the 2019 ARCA Menards Series championship after recording four wins, two poles, 400 laps led, 13 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes, resulting in an average finish of 4.8 across 19 starts. Across 46 career ARCA Menards Series starts overall, Eckes has collected seven wins, four poles, 1094 laps led, 23 top-five and 35 top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 6.9.
Eckes is paired with champion crew chief Ryan “Rudy” Fugle. Fugle has guided his team to five owner’s championships (2013, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019) as a crew chief at KBM, including combined owner’s/driver’s championships with Erik Jones in 2015 and Christopher Bell in 2017. The New York native’s drivers have combined for 28 wins, 24 poles, 71 top-five and 107 top-10 finishes across his 139 races calling the shots for the organization.
Fugle’s drivers have two wins, one pole, three top-five and four top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 8.6 at Atlanta. Owner-driver Kyle Busch led a race-high 92 laps en route to victory in last year’s event, while Christopher Bell became to the first driver under NASCAR’s new format to sweep all three stages of a race after leading 99 of 130 laps en route to victory from the pole in 2017. Busch was piloting KBM-55 in last year’s event, the same Tundra that Eckes will drive on Saturday.
Safelite AutoGlass, the nation’s largest provider of vehicle glass repair and replacement services, will adorn the hood of Eckes’ No. 18 Tundra for all 23 events on NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors schedule in 2020.
With sponsor guests not being permitted to attend races during the pandemic, Eckes has been holding virtual meet and greets on Zoom with Safelite associates in each market. He will conduct one with Safelite associates in the Atlanta region Thursday, June 4 at 6 p.m. ET.
How difficult is it for a young driver to just line up and race at a track that you’ve never competed at before in any series?
“It’s a huge challenge for sure – not only is it your first time on the race track, but it’s the first time in the truck and seeing what it needs. Overall, it’s a big challenge, but luckily we have simulator time and a whole bunch of other things to get prepared as much as possible”
Do you find yourself asking Kyle and Rudy more questions going into these races knowing your not going to get time to adapt to the tracks?
“For sure, me and Rudy spend a lot of time together just trying to get better. For Charlotte, we sat down and went over the entire race and what we need to improve on – both him and me. Kyle has been a super-big help. A few months ago, in particular, we talked about Atlanta about restarts and stuff like that because it is a very challenging race track. I’d say for sure this weekend it is going to help me this weekend at Atlanta.
“How different will racing at Atlanta be than the other mile-and-a-halves that you’ve raced so far in the Truck Series?
“Atlanta seems like a pretty interesting race track in the fact that there is not a lot of grip, but there is a lot of banking – I think it’s the most banked mile-and-a-half that we go to. It’s pretty fast, wears out quick and wears out tires. It should be pretty fun to move around and find grip. I feel like it is kind of similar to Homestead in that aspect, which I’ve ran at before, but it’s a mile-and-a-half cookie cutter deal so it’s a little bit different. Really looking forward to getting into my Safelite Tundra and hopefully having a good result this weekend.”
Christian Eckes Career Highlights:
- Across 15 career Truck Series starts has produced three poles, three top-five and seven top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 13.1. Earned a career-best third-place finish twice last season, at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway in Sept. and again at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway in Nov., where he clinched KBM’s record-extending seventh owner’s championship.
- Captured the 2019 ARCA Menards Series championship after recording four wins, two poles, 400 laps led, 13 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes, resulting in an average finish of 4.8 across 19 starts. Has seven career ARCA Racing Series victories across 46 starts to go along with four poles, 1094 laps led, 23 top-five and 35 top-10 finishes.
- Put his name on the motorsports map when he won the prestigious Snowball Derby Super Late Model race in 2016 at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla. The then 15-year-old battled side-by-side with John Hunter Nemechek for the final two laps before narrowly edging him to the finish line.
Christian Eckes’ No. 18 Safelite AutoGlass Tundra:KBM-55: The Safelite AutoGlass team will unload KBM-55 for Saturday’s Vet Tix Camping World 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The Tundra went to victory lane with owner-driver Kyle Busch behind the wheel in last year’s race at Atlanta and also was victorious with Busch at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth last March and Greg Biffle at Texas in June. Across five starts overall, the chassis has an average finish of 2.2.
KBM Notes of Interest:
KBM drivers have collected two wins, two poles, 511 laps led, seven top-five and 10 top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 12.6 across 20 starts at Atlanta. Owner-driver Kyle Busch led a race-high 92 laps en route to victory in last year’s event, while Christopher Bell became to the first driver under NASCAR’s new format to sweep all three stages of a race after leading 99 of 130 laps en route to victory from the pole in 2017.
KBM holds the NGROTS records for most career wins (76) and most wins in a single season (14 in 2014). In addition to collecting a series-record seven Owner’s Championships, the organization has produced two championship-winning drivers; Erik Jones (2015) and Christopher Bell (2017).
The No. 18, the number which was on the first Tundra that went to victory lane for KBM in 2010, has 21 career victories.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!