Event: Buckle Up In Your Truck 225 (Race 7 of 23), 150 Laps -35/35/80; 225 Miles
Location: Kentucky Speedway in Sparta (1.5-mile tri-oval)
Date/Broadcast: July 11, 2020 at 6 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR 90
What You Need to Know:
Christian Eckes and the No. 18 Safelite AutoGlass team head to Kentucky Speedway for the seventh race on the 2020 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series schedule. Eckes, who is in his first full-time season in the Gander Trucks, will be making his first start in any series at the 1.5-mile oval but did participate in an ARCA Menards Series test at the venue in 2017.
Eckes experienced a heartbreaking end at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa. in the Gander Trucks last stop on the schedule June 28. Eckes finished Stage Two in the second position and then after pitting for fresh right-side tires before the Final Stage worked his way from 10th to the lead with 21 laps remaining. The 19-year-old would pull away to a sizable lead on his Kyle Busch Motorsports’ teammate Brandon Jones, before blowing a tire and causing major damage to the Safelite Tundra with 11 laps remaining. Unable to continue, the No. 18 team ended the day with a 33rd-place finish.
With his disappointing finish at Pocono, Eckes fell four positions to sixth in the Gander Truck Series championship standings. With six races complete, he sits 74 tallies behind points leader Austin Hill. The New York native has a two-point lead over Zane Smith in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. Eckes ranks second to Hill among Truck Series regulars with 55 Laps Led and 26 Fastest Laps Run. He has led double digit laps in each of the last three races.
Across 18 career Gander Trucks starts, the Toyota Racing Development driver has produced three poles, 183 laps led, four top-five and eight top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 13.4. Eckes has finished a career-best third three times in his career, most recently at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., on June 6.
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, 72 top-five and 109 top-10 finishes across his 142 races calling the shots for the organization.
Fugle’s drivers have two wins, one pole, 288 laps led, four top-five and five top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 6.3 across six starts at Kentucky. William Byron was victorious in 2016 and Christopher Bell made it back-to-back wins for the veteran crew chief in 2017.
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 Cincinnati, Ohio region Thursday, July 9 at 6 p.m. ET.
Is winning the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award something you set as a goal before the season started?
“Yeah, for sure. Especially because the rookie of the year class this year is really prestigious and there are a lot of good rookies in it. So, we have a slim lead, but I think we can definitely build on that. Last week definitely hurt at Pocono with finishing 33rd. We had a huge lead before that, so we just have to keep doing our deal and hopefully we can get that at the end of the year.”
Does the uncertainty around the rest of the 2020 schedule force you to pay more attention to where you are currently in the playoff standings?
“Yeah, I think so. We were second in points last week until Pocono. We have definitely been keeping an eye on it and doing our best to get points. We’ve had good stages and good finishes at times but mostly good stages. We have done a really good job with stage points this year, but we have to put a couple of more races together to feel really confident about it. It’s a win to get in situation. Unfortunately, we could have done it last week, but we didn’t. So, we have to keep doing what we are doing, and I think we will be able to accomplish that.”
Normally the Truck Series is the first race of the weekend, but at Kentucky there will be three races completed before you hit the track. Will all the rubber that gets laid down affect the track conditions?
“Yeah, I think so. It should improve conditions for sure. Overall, every time that somebody’s ran before us, even if it’s the night before, the PJ1 traction compound has been really good from the start of the race. Hopefully that is the same way here. I know the ARCA race is before us, so I am assuming some of those guys will be up there. Even though it is General (Tire) rubber, I think it will be an advantage. I am looking forward to getting in my Safelite Tundra this weekend and having a good race at Kentucky.”
Across 18 career Truck Series starts has produced three poles, 183 laps led, four top-five and nine top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 13.4. Has earned a career-best third-place finish three times, most recently at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., in June. He also finished third 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-053: The No. 18 Safelite AutoGlass team will unload KBM-53, for Saturday’s race at Kentucky Speedway. This Tundra scored a pair of top-five finishes in 2018 with Noah Gragson behind the wheel; at Iowa Speedway in Newtown and Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. Most recently Brandon Jones finished 13th with the truck in the 2019 event at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
KBM Notes of Interest:
KBM drivers have collected four wins, three poles, 740 laps led, 14 top-five and 19 top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 9.6 across 28 starts at Kentucky.
Christopher Bell scored the organization’s most recent win at Kentucky in 2017, William Byron was victorious in 2016 and Kyle Busch visited victory lane in 2011 and 2014.
KBM holds the NGROTS records for most career wins (78) 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!