Eckes Outduels Busch For Bristol Truck Victory


Christian Eckes celebrates with a burnout after winning Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway. (Scotte Sprinkle/RFD photo)

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Kyle Busch took Christian Eckes to school on an early restart Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, but Eckes repaid the favor when it mattered most.

After losing the lead to Busch late in the first stage at the track dubbed the World’s Fastest Half Mile, Eckes eventually passed Busch back on lap 159 of 250 in the WEATHER GUARD Truck Race and never trailed again.

The McAnally-Hilgemann Racing driver led the final 92 laps, and a race-high 144 laps overall, en route to his sixth career NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory and first of the season.

It was also a redeeming win for Eckes, whose runner-up in last September’s Truck Series race on the Bristol concrete played a part in his elimination from the playoff Round of 8.

“Oh, man, it’s so sweet,” said Eckes of his first win at Bristol. “There’s just so much behind this win from last year, missing out on the Championship 4 and losing the race with (six laps) to go.

“To come back and redeem ourselves was the number one goal, and not only that, but the first three races (of this season) with how terribly they’ve gone,” he added. “We had a lot of issues, and to come back and run really good just shows the resilience of this team.”

After a ferocious battle in and out of traffic for much of, it was contact following a restart with 98 laps to go that epitomized the late stages of the 250-lapper.

Eckes dove to Busch’s inside entering turn three, then washed up the track into Busch’s left-rear fender exiting the fourth corner. It was enough contact to send Busch 45 degrees sideways at the flagstand and give both he and Eckes a moment of pause late.

“He had a hell of a save,” Eckes noted in recalling the contact with Busch. “I thought he was crashed, for sure, off of turn four. But I think that was just hard racing; I certainly didn’t mean to drive through him. Hopefully he feels the same way … but I had a lot of fun tonight.”


Christian Eckes (19) leads Kyle Busch on the final lap at Bristol Motor Speedway. (Jacob Seelman photo)

Both drivers continued, however, and despite a final caution with 31 laps left for an incident between Nick Sanchez and Stewart Friesen, Eckes was not to be denied.

Though Busch tried to close inside the final 10 laps with a better truck on long runs, Eckes hung on for a narrow .141-second victory.

“The crazy part about it is, we fought [being] loose all through practice, all through qualifying, and all through the beginning part of the race on older date codes,” Busch noted. “Then we put on the newer date codes of tires and were instantly tight. … I don't think we were as tight as the 19 (Eckes) down the stretch, but I let him go early in that run to go burn his stuff off and track position and aero got us at the end.”

“It’s always huge to win [against] Kyle; he’s the best in our series by a pretty wide margin,” Eckes added. “Especially at Bristol, this is his house … his playground, I feel like. To beat him here is pretty awesome.”

NASCAR Cup Series rookie Zane Smith, moonlighting as a teammate to Eckes Saturday night in the Truck Series, finished third ahead of three-time series champion Matt Crafton and Tyler Ankrum.

Not only did Ankrum’s fifth-place finish give McAnally-Hilgemann Racing three trucks in the top five, it also allowed the San Bernadino, Calif., native to maintain the series point lead by 17 over Corey Heim.

Heim finished sixth, with Taylor Gray, Rajah Caruth, Grant Enfinger, and Layne Riggs closing the top 10.

Six caution flags slowed the pace for 50 laps in the first-ever 250-lap Truck Series race on the Bristol concrete, with the race distance completed in a tidy one hour, 41 minutes, and 51 seconds.

The biggest incident of the night came on a lap-143 restart, when Ty Majeski got out of shape off turn two and spun down the backstretch, collecting his teammate Ben Rhodes in the process.

Rhodes was able to continue and ended up 16th, while Majeski ended in the garage in 34th.

The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season continues with the XPEL 225 on March 23 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, where Zane Smith has won the last two Truck Series races.

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About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.