Event: ToyotaCare 250, Race 16 of 23, 200 Laps – 70/70/110; 187.5 Miles
Location: Richmond (Va.) Raceway(0.75-mile D-shaped oval)
Date/Broadcast: Sept. 10, 2020 at 8 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR 90
What You Need to Know:
For the first time since 2005, the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series will head to Richmond Raceway. This week’s event, originally scheduled for April, will mark the final race of the regular season for the Gander Trucks. Christian Eckes enters Thursday night’s race sixth in the driver point standings and eighth on the 10-driver playoff grid. With his fifth-place finish at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway on Sunday, the driver of the No. 18 Safelite AutoGlass Tundra locked himself into the playoffs via points, regardless of what happens at Richmond. Eckes is one of just two drivers currently on the playoff grid that currently does not have any playoff points
Eckes also sits second in the Gander Trucks Rookie of the Year standings, 39 points behind Zane Smith, but the rookie points will also see a reset at the completion of the regular season. Smith and Eckes are the lone two rookies currently on the playoff grid. Derek Kraus is10 points behind the cutoff line with one race remaining and all other rookies, including KBM’s Raphael Lessard would need to win at Richmond to make the playoffs and remain alive in the pursuit of the rookie of the year honors. Eckes’ five Sunoco Rookie of the Race awards are more than any other rookie contender this season, but he sits 50 points behind Zane Smith in the Rookie of the Year standings.
Overall, in 15 starts this season, the New York native has compiled five top-five and seven top-10 finishes, resulting in an average finish of 12.5. He ranks third among series regulars in average running position (9.1) and laps led (158), fourth in driver rating (98.1) and fifth in laps led (158), laps in top 15 (1,518) and fastest laps run (66). He had led at least one lap in 10 the 15 races this season and double-digit laps seven times.
The Toyota Racing Development driver has been on the cusp of his first NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Series victory in recent months, having finished in the runner-up position in three of the last seven events on the schedule. Eckes took the lead on a restart in the second overtime session at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn on Aug. 7 but surrendered the lead to Zane Smith on the final lap. The 19-year-old rookie also finished second to KBM owner-driver Kyle Busch July 18 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth and second to three-time series champion Matt Crafton July 25 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.
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, 76 top-five and 114 top-10 finishes across his 150 races calling the shots for the organization. Fugle has never called a Truck Series race at Richmond but was atop the pit box for two Xfinity Series races with Michael Annett in 2010.
While KBM has never participated in a NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Series event at Richmond, the organization has four NASCAR Xfinity starts at the Virginia track, including its lone series win with Kurt Busch on April 27, 2012.
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.
Having solidified your spot in the playoffs via points last week, how will you approach the final race of the regular season at Richmond?
“It’s going to be pretty nice actually. There is not as much stress. We can just go race and get playoff points. Obviously, we haven’t received any of those this year. We have the opportunity to get seven here this weekend, and we are going to try and do that. Richmond’s kind of a place I think that will suit my driving style. Growing up on short tracks and stuff, so hopefully that is the case. I’m looking forward to getting in my Safelite Tundra this weekend.”
How do you prepare for a racetrack that you haven’t been to, there is no recent film to watch of truck races and your team doesn’t have a notebook on?
“There’s a lot we can do to prepare still. Obviously, we have the simulator at TRD. There’s also a lot of film from the last few years. The Cup series and Xfinity Series race there twice a year, so I will definitely be looking back to mostly last year. There are a couple of onboard cameras that I have circled and want to watch. I’ll definitely watch those to prepare.”
What would it mean to you to get your first Truck Series win in a race sponsored by Toyota?
“It would mean a lot. We haven’t gotten a win yet. We’ve definitely been close a few times. If we’re able to that at a Toyota sponsored race, then it would be really special, especially with how much Toyota has done for me over the years. Hopefully, we can do that in the ToyotaCare 250 and bring home a win for the Safelite AutoGlass team as well.”
Christian Eckes Career Highlights:
Across 27 career Truck Series starts has produced three poles, 289 laps led, eight top-five and 14 top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 12.1. Earned a career-best runner-up finish at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on July 18, 2020 and then equaled it July 25, 2020 at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City and Aug. 7 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.
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-68: The No. 18 Safelite AutoGlass team will unload KBM-68 for Thursday night’s race at Richmond. The Tundra debuted in August at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, where Eckes was running second in the Final Stage before a driveshaft issue relegated him to a 32nd-place finish.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!