Former ARCA Menards Series champion Christian Eckes took home his first-ever NASCAR Camping World Truck Series win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Friday night. He did so with help from his ThorSport Racing teammates and after passing Todd Gilliland on a late-race restart.
“I knew we had a shot on that restart,” Eckes said about the victory. “For whatever reason, our restarts have been stellar. The last one all we had to do was go forward one spot and we were able to do that. The 16 (Austin Hill) was able to give me a great push and my teammate (Ben Rhodes) gave me a good push too. My Curb Records Tundra was really damn good.
“Just proud of my whole team, this is a brand new truck we brought here. Our team did well finishing 1-2-3-4. My crew chief’s (Jeriod Prince) first win and my first win, it was a great night.”
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series headed west to Las Vegas Motor Speedway to begin the Round of 6 in the Truck Series Playoffs, a race that took an interesting turn Friday night. Stages of 30/30/74 laps made up the 134-lap event. John Hunter Nemechek was on the pole by virtue of NASCAR’s metric system.
There was only one caution in Stage 1 and it happened only three laps into the event. The No. 45 of Chris Hacker crashed off Turn 4 and brought out the only yellow of the stage. Nemechek had a dominant truck early and led every lap of Stage 1 to take the stage victory. Gilliland, Chandler Smith, Ben Rhodes, Stewart Friesen, Zane Smith, Eckes, Sheldon Creed, Austin Hill and Tyler Ankrum were the top 10 finishers.
During Stage 2, the action picked up with two cautions and a major incident that impacted two of the playoff drivers, John Hunter Nemechek and Zane Smith. On Lap 38, Zane Smith went three-wide with Nemechek and Friesen, only to cut down a left-rear tire and bring out the yellow. Under the yellow, his No. 21 truck eventually lost power, but the team replaced the battery with a new one.
Nemechek’s issues began on Lap 48. The Mooresville, North Carolina native slowed on the backstretch and brought out the yellow on Lap 52 as he had no ignition fire. He did, however, get the truck refired.
Meanwhile, Todd Gilliland turned the page and scored the stage victory. Rhodes, Carson Hocevar, Friesen, Creed, Tanner Gray, Austin Hill, Matt Crafton, Eckes, and Chandler Smith rounded out the top 10.
Stage 3 was even more intriguing. A major crash occurred on Lap 70 with multiple trucks involved, including playoff drivers Chandler Smith and Creed. Creed’s teammate, Ankrum, spun off Turn 2 which caused a chain of events. Creed went to the bottom to miss the accident but was not clear and he plowed into the back of Smith’s truck. The accident ended the night for both drivers. Creed and Smith were treated and released from the infield care center following the incident.
Later on in the stage, Nemechek’s problems continued to worsen. He once again brought out the yellow flag with 54 to go after stalling on the backstretch. Due to his mechanical problems, Nemechek was relegated to 33rd place finish, 49 laps down.
The final caution of the night came inside 10 laps to go when the No. 42 of Carson Hocevar spun prior to pit road. The Niece Motorsports driver was penalized one lap for bringing out the yellow intentionally.
With a four-lap restart, Gilliland hoped to gain his second win since Circuit of Americus back in May. However, Eckes powered right on by and eventually grabbed his first Truck Series victory with his ThorSport teammates Ben Rhodes, Matt Crafton, and Johnny Sauter taking the top four spots. It was the first time in series history that one team has accomplished the feat.
“It’s tough to begin with but at this track it’s even crazier,” Rhodes said about finishing second. “We all saw at this track the restarts were wild all night long. I think I’m just happy with the night. Come in from Bristol, barely getting in, and now I hear we are the points leader. But I couldn’t be more proud of ThorSport Racing. Heck, we were one-through-four. I heard that was the first time in series history.”
“I’m super proud of Christian Eckes. I gave him as big of a shove as I could down the backstretch and when that happened, he got the lead. I thought I could challenge him. We needed one more corner before that caution came out and maybe I could have challenged him for the win, but super proud of him. He deserves it. He’s been working hard on it, and with his part-time schedule, it’s really good to see. ThorSport Racing is on fire tonight.”
Meanwhile, playoff driver Matt Crafton continued his consistency by finishing third. With the exception of Watkins Glen (finishing 22nd), Crafton has finished inside the Top 10 or five since Nashville back in June.
“These guys behind pit wall. Junior (Carl Joiner, crew chief) and them making all of the right adjustments,” Crafton said. “We’ve never ever made as many adjustments as we did tonight. The Menards Toyota Tundra was good on long runs, but our short run speed – we were pathetic. We weren’t wanting that last restart but we did. I thought I had a good run off turn four and was going to try to do something with the 98 (Christian Eckes) and then the 99 (Ben Rhodes) turned underneath me and drove on by me. All-in-all, I’m really happy for Duke and Rhonda Thorson. 1-2-3-4, I don’t think that has ever been done. Thanks to Menards and everybody.”
Eckes led once for four laps en route to victory.
There were 10 cautions for 39 laps and 14 lead changes among 11 different leaders.
Updated Truck Series Playoff standings following Race 1 in the Round of 6:
- Ben Rhodes, +34
- John Hunter Nemechek, +28
- Stewart Friesen, +9
- Matt Crafton, +5
Below the cut line
- Sheldon Creed, -5
- Carson Hocevar, -16
- Zane Smith, -19
- Chandler Smith, -24
Official Results following Victoria’s Voice Foundation 200 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway
- Christian Eckes, led four laps
- Ben Rhodes, led five laps
- Matt Crafton
- Johnny Sauter, led two laps
- Todd Gilliland, won Stage 2, led 66 laps
- Stewart Friesen, led one lap
- Grant Enfinger
- Austin Wayne Self
- Ryan Truex
- Austin Hill, led 12 laps
- Bret Holmes, led one lap
- Derek Kraus
- Chase Purdy
- Tate Fogleman, led one lap
- Spencer Davis
- Kris Wright
- Tyler Hill, 1 lap down
- Danny Bohn, 1 lap down
- Spencer Boyd, 1 lap down
- CJ McLaughlin, 1 lap down
- Dylan Lupton, 1 lap down
- Carson Hocevar, 2 laps down, led 8 laps
- Tanner Gray, 2 laps down
- Drew Dollar, 2 laps down
- Brett Moffitt, 3 laps down, led one lap
- Howie DiSavino III, 4 laps down
- Jennifer Jo Cobb, 5 laps down
- Cory Roper, 13 laps down
- Zane Smith, 19 laps down
- Jack Wood, OUT, Accident
- Hailie Deegan, OUT, Accident
- Keith McGee, OUT, Too slow
- John Hunter Nemechek, 49 laps down, won Stage 1, led 33 laps
- Tyler Ankrum, OUT, Accident
- Chandler Smith, OUT, Accident
- Sheldon Creed, OUT, Accident
- Chris Hacker, OUT, Damage Vehicle Policy
Up Next: The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will head back east to Talladega Superspeedway Saturday, October 2, live on Fox Sports 1 and MRN Radio at 1 p.m. ET.