Event: Vankor 350, Race 8 of 23, 134 Laps – 40/40/87; 250.5 Miles
Location: Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth (1.5-mile quad-oval)
Date/Broadcast: July 18, 2020 at 8 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 Texas Motor Speedway for the eighth 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 took part in a two-day rookie test alongside his KBM teammate Raphael Lessard in earlier March before testing was banned due to the pandemic.
Eckes is coming off a solid run at Kentucky Speedway last week in the rain-shortened event. Eckes started fourth and finished sixth, but was also able to score seven stage points in the opening stage. Eckes gained two positions and currently sits sixth in the Gander Truck Series championship standings, where with six races completed, he sits 71 tallies behind points leader Austin Hill. The New York native has a one-point lead over Zane Smith in the Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings. He has led double-digit laps four times across seven starts this year.
Across 19 career Gander Trucks starts, the Toyota Racing Development driver has produced three poles, 183 laps led, four top-five and 10 top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 13.0. 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 has adapted well to racing on mile-and-a-half tracks in recent weeks. Across his last three starts at 1.5-mile-venues he has posted an average finish of 5.6, including last week’s sixth place result at Kentucky. All three of his career-best third-place finishes have come on mile-and-a-half tracks; Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway (9/13/19), Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway (11/15/19) and Atlanta (6/6/20).
Eckes 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 110 top-10 finishes across his 143 races calling the shots for the organization.
Fugle’s drivers have five wins, one pole, 441 laps led, six top-five and 10 top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 8.7 across 13 starts at Texas. He earned a sweep of the Texas’ events last season with KBM owner-driver Kyle Busch winning the March race and Greg Biffle winning the June race in a one-race deal. Fugle has also scored wins at Texas with young guns Erik Jones (2015), William Byron (2016) and Christopher Bell (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 Austin, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Houston, Lubbock and San Antonio markets Thursday, July 16 at 7 p.m. ET.
You have an average finish of 5.6 in your last three races on 1.5-mile tracks. What is the key to being successful on mile-and-half tracks?
“For whatever reason, I have been drawn to mile-and-a-halves. I have been pretty good at them, but I wouldn’t say great. I’ve gotten better over the last few races. I felt like Kentucky was the best race I’ve put together as far as making moves, on restarts, and on the aero games you have to play. It’s so much different than past series. It honestly takes a little bit to get acclimated to. I’ve felt like we’ve done a decent job, but not enough. Hopefully we can do that this weekend in Texas with our Safelite Tundra.”
The temperature is expected to be in the mid-90’s when the race starts. How do you prepare for racing in extreme conditions?
“There are a lot of things we can do for the heat. Obviously, we have the Toyota Performance Center which has a heat room where we can workout and get acclimated to the heat a little bit better. I have spent a lot of time in that this week so far and plan on doing some before the race. Obviously, we tested here in March in a little bit of different track conditions. It was a little bit colder. Obviously, the teams I don’t think they’ve ran in mid-July at Texas. I think the closest they’ve ran was the first week in June. It will be a little bit different handling wise. Overall, it should be about the same.”
Do you expect Texas to be similar to Kentucky last week where it’s a one-groove track and it’s hard to pass?
“The track is pretty similar to Kentucky, honestly. It’s almost like the track is flip-flopped. (Turns) One and Two at Kentucky is kind of like (Turns) Three and Four at Texas. It’s the opposite for the other turns. It’s definitely good to run there (Kentucky) before. It’s going to have a lot of characteristics. It is a one lane racetrack and is really hard to pass. It’s just all about timing and momentum. We will see what happens, but overall, I’m looking forward to getting to the track.”
Christian Eckes Career Highlights:
Across 19 career Truck Series starts has produced three poles, 183 laps led, four top-five and 10 top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 13.0. 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-055: The Safelite AutoGlass team will unload KBM-55 for Saturday’s Vankor 350 at Texas Motor Speedway. The Tundra went to victory lane with owner-driver Kyle Busch behind the wheel at Texas last March and Greg Biffle at Texas in June. Across seven starts overall with five different drivers, the chassis has an average finish of 2.3 and has not finished outside the top five. Eckes equaled a career-best with a third-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., driving KBM-55 in June.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!