Event: World of Westgate 200, Race 18 of 23 (Race 2 in the Round of 10),
134 Laps – 30/30/74; 201 Miles
Location: Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway(1.5-mile tri-oval)
Date/Broadcast: Sept. 25, 2020 at 9 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 Las Vegas Motor Speedway for race two of the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series playoffs. With two races remaining in the Round of 10, Eckes finds himself two points behind the cutoff line for advancing to the Round of 8. He entered the playoffs two points above the cutoff line but fell one position after his 12th-place finish at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway last Thursday. The Round of 10 concludes Oct. 3 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
The Toyota Racing Development product captured the pole and earned a third-place finish in his first-ever start at Las Vegas in last year’s September event. In this year’s February race, he finished second to his boss, Kyle Busch, in each of the opening stages but got forced into the wall by another competitor early in the Final Stage and was relegated to a disappointing 23rd-place finish.
The New York native earned his spot in this year’s playoffs after finishing sixth in the regular season point standings. Six series regulars were able to earn a win this year and of the drivers that did not capture a victory, Brett Moffitt finished ahead of Eckes in the point standings, leaving him as the eighth seed. The 19-year-old driver is one of just two rookies to make this year’s postseason, joining fellow rookie contender Zane Smith, Smith, who recorded two victories this season, enters the playoffs as the second seed and is 17 points ahead of Eckes for the Rookie of the Year award. They are tied for the series lead earning the rookie of the race award five times each. With a birthdate of 11/10/2000, Eckes is the youngest driver in the playoff field by just over six months (Todd Gilliland, 5/15/2000).
Across the first 17 events of the 2020 season, Eckes posted five top-five and seven top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 12.8. He ranks third among series regulars in percentage of laps run on lead lap (94.37%), fourth in average running position (9.313), and fifth in laps led (158).
While this will be Eckes’ first foray into the driver playoffs in the Truck Series, the Toyota Racing Development driver was a key catalyst in the No. 51 team’s owner championship in 2019. The talented teenager made three of his eight starts last season in the playoffs, including his third-place finish in the Championship 4 race at Homestead-Miami (Fla.) Speedway that secured KBM’s record-extending seventh owner’s championship.The talented teenager also can draw on his ARCA Menards Series experience, where he captured the 2019 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 153 races calling the shots for the organization.
Fugle was victorious in March of 2018 at Las Vegas with owner-driver Kyle Busch behind the wheel and across six Truck Series starts his drivers have registered four top-five and five top-10 finishes resulting in an average finish of 10.0.
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 in the garage area at 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 Las Vegas market Wednesday, Sept. 23 at 5 p.m. PT.
Christian Eckes Las Vegas Q&A
You’ve had strong runs at Las Vegas your first two times there. Does that give you confidence going into Friday?
“I’m pretty confident overall. It is a place I’ve always enjoyed going. It’s one of my favorite mile-and-a-halves, if not my favorite mile-and-a-half. I’ve had success there. KBM’s had success there. Hopefully, we can repeat that success and have a good race this weekend.”
You’ve already raced at Las Vegas twice with normal weekends where you had practice. Does that hep you prepare better for this race compared to several races this season where it was your first time racing at a track and you just line up and race?
“I’d say so for sure. It’s kind of nice knowing pretty much everything about Vegas. Having practice and stuff like that is just more laps. If you can get more laps no matter what vehicle it is in, it definitely helps. I’d say that it is definitely an advantage having two full weekends.”
After one race in the Round of 10 you are two points below the cutoff line for advancing. How important will getting stage points be at Las Vegas this week?
“Stage points are crucial. It takes a bad finish and makes it a lot better. At Bristol, we did not do a great job, but we still scored a couple of points. We just didn’t finish well. We have to continue to try to get points. Obviously two points below the cutline is definitely where we don’t want to be, but in the aspect, it’s a little bit of motivation to go get some more. Hopefully, we can get some stage points like we did in the spring and get a better result as well.”
Christian Eckes Career Highlights:
Across 29 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 12.8. 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-53: The No. 18 Safelite AutoGlass team will unload KBM-53 for Friday’s race at Las Vegas. The Tundra has produced two runner-up finishes across four career starts, most recently with Eckes at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn in August.
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!