After spending a majority of the evening trailing the front-runners, Christian Eckes benefitted through a pair of late-race cautions and a two-lap shootout to overtake Playoff rivals Corey Heim and Zane Smith on the final lap to win the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series Kansas Lottery 200 at Kansas Speedway on Friday, September 8.
The 22-year-old Eckes from Greenville, New York, led the final two of 134-scheduled laps in an event where he qualified eighth, notched stage points during the event’s two stage periods and kept pace with the leaders with a locked-up berth to the Round of 8 in the 2023 Truck Series Playoffs already sealed prior to the event.
Then amid two late-race caution periods, starting with 17 laps remaining and a proceeding one with eight laps remaining that sent the event into a two-lap shootout, Eckes, who was running in the top five amid the late chaos, drew himself into a battle for the lead and win against Heim and Zane Smith prior to the final lap. Despite leading the final lap mark, Eckes briefly lost the lead to both Heim and Zane Smith. With the latter two dueling for the lead through the backstretch, Eckes seized an opportunity and crossed his No. 19 McAnally-Hilgemann Racing Chevrolet beneath Heim and Zane Smith before bolting past both through the backstretch and nearly sliding up the track in Turn 3 before muscling away and claiming his third Truck Series victory of the 2023 season as the Playoff’s Round of 10 came to a thrilling conclusion.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Friday, Chase Purdy notched his first Truck career pole position after posting a pole-winning lap at 176.292 mph in 30.631 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Playoff competitor and rookie Nick Sanchez, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 176.200 mph in 30.647 seconds.
Prior to the event, Chase Janes, Spencer Davis Timy Hill and Lawless Alan dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments to their respective trucks. Playoff contender Matt Crafton and Colby Howard also dropped to the rear of the field as they started the main event in backup trucks.
When the green flag waved and the race started, Purdy and Sanchez dueled for the lead through the frontstretch and entering the first turn until Sanchez muscled his No. 2 Gainbridge Chevrolet Silverado RST ahead of Purdy on the inside lane and into the lead entering the backstretch. As the field fanned out through the backstretch, Sanchez rocketed away from the competition as he proceeded to lead the first lap. With Sanchez leading, Ben Rhodes challenged Purdy for the runner-up spot followed by Christian Eckes while Ty Majeski, who got loose and nearly clipped Purdy through the third turn, was back in fifth ahead of rookie Jake Garcia.
Through the second lap, Sanchez stretched his advantage to half a second over a side-by-side duel between Rhodes and Purdy while Eckes retained fourth. Behind, Majeski got loose again in Turn 3 as he nearly clipped Garcia while battling for fifth place. The mishap dropped Majeski to seventh as Garcia and Jake Drew moved up to fifth and sixth.
Through the first five scheduled laps, Sanchez was leading by six-tenths of a second over Rhodes followed by Purdy, Garcia and Eckes while Jake Drew, Majeski, Jack Wood, Grant Enfinger and Zane Smith were in the top 10. Behind, Corey Heim was in 11th ahead of rookie Taylor Gray, Hailie Deegan, Matt DiBenedetto and Tanner Gray while Carson Hocevar, Stewart Friesen, rookie Rajah Caruth, Dean Thompson and Jesse Love occupied the top 20 on the track. Meanwhile, Matt Crafton was the lowest-running Playoff contender on the track as he was in 22nd.
At the Lap 10 mark, Sanchez continued to lead by nine-tenths of a second over Rhodes while third-place Garcia trailed by more than a second. By then, Purdy fell back to fourth ahead of Eckes and Majeski while Drew, Heim, Zane Smith and Wood were mired in the top 10. Meanwhile, Enfinger, Hocevar, DiBenedetto and Crafton were the four Playoff competitors currently running outside the top 10 on the track.
Three laps later, the first caution of the event flew when Bayley Currey, who was running 23rd, spun his No. 41 Unishippers Chevrolet Silverado RST entering Turn 2. During the first caution period, some including Enfinger, Ankrum, Colby Howard, Spencer Boyd, Justin Carroll, Lawless Alan, Mason Maggio, Deegan and Chase Janes pitted while the rest led by Sanchez remained on the track.
When the race restarted under green on Lap 20, Sanchez, who spun the tires at the start, retained the lead as the field fanned out through the first turn. In the midst of Sanchez leading, Rhodes was being challenged by Purdy and Eckes for the runner-up spot as Heim and Zane Smith battled for fifth in front of Hocevar and Garcia, who slipped out of the top five.
Five laps later, Sanchez retained the lead by seven-tenths of a second over Purdy followed by Rhodes, Heim and Eckes while Zane Smith settled in sixth in front of Hocevar. Shortly after, Enfinger, who restarted outside the top 20, had carved his way back into the top 10 on fresh tires as he was in eighth behind Zane Smith and Jake Drew while Hocevar fell back to ninth.
Then on Lap 26, the second caution of the event flew when Kaden Honeycutt spun in between Turns 3 and 4 as his truck looped sideways from the top lane to the bottom lane with the leaders approaching and missing Honeycutt. Honeycutt’s incident was enough for the first stage period scheduled to conclude on Lap 30 to officially conclude under caution.
As a result, Sanchez, who came into the event three points above the top-eight cutline to advance to the Playoff’s Round of 8, captured his third Truck stage victory of the 2023 season. Purdy settled in second while Rhodes, Heim, Eckes, Zane Smith, Drew, Enfinger, Hocevar and Majeski were scored in the top 10. By then, DiBenedetto and Crafton were the two Playoff contenders who failed to collect a first round of stage points as they were scored in 11th and 13th on the track while Hocevar managed to clinch his way into the Round of 8 by points for the first time in his career.
Under the stage break, nearly the entire lead lap field led by Sanchez pitted while Enfinger, who pitted during the first caution period, remained on the track to inherit the lead.
The second stage started on Lap 35 as Enfinger and Sanchez occupied the front row. At the start, Sanchez managed to rocket ahead of Enfinger to reassume the lead on the inside lane as the field fanned out through the first two turns and entering the backstretch. With Rhodes challenging and overtaking Enfinger for the runner-up spot, he then proceeded to challenge Sanchez for the lead during the proceeding lap. Despite leading Laps 37 and 38 by a hair over Sanchez amid a heated duel, Sanchez would manage to slide in front of Rhodes’ No. 99 Kubota Ford F-150 through Turns 3 and 4 as he retained the lead with a clear racetrack by Lap 39. By then, Purdy made an unscheduled pit stop under green due to reports of a loose wheel to his pole-winning No. 4 Bama Buggies Chevrolet Silverado RST.
At the Lap 40 mark, Sanchez was leading by three-tenths of a second over a tight seven-truck battle for the lead that involved Hocevar, Rhodes, Eckes, Zane Smith, Enfinger and Heim, all of whom were separated by a second and were contending in the Playoffs, while DiBenedetto and Crafton trailed in the top nine. With nine of 10 Playoff contenders running first through ninth, Majeski, the 10th Playoff contender, was mired back in 20th while Taylor Gray was the highest-running non-playoff competitor running in 10th place on the track.
By Lap 50, Hocevar, who overtook Sanchez for the lead two laps earlier, was leading in his No. 42 Worldwide Express Chevrolet Silverado RST by nine-tenths of a second over Sanchez while Zane Smith, Heim and Rhodes were in the top five ahead of Eckes, Enfinger and DiBenedetto. By then, Crafton fell back to 12th while teammate Majeski was still mired in 19th in between Jack Wood and Jesse Love.
When the second stage period concluded on Lap 60, Hocevar notched his third Truck stage victory of the 2023 season after muscling away from the field by more than two seconds. Sanchez trailed in second followed by Heim, Zane Smith and Enfinger while Eckes, Rhodes, Rajah Caruth, DiBenedetto and Taylor Gray were scored in the top 10. By then, the remaining Playoff competitors, Crafton and Majeski, were mired back in 12th and 17th, respectively.
During the stage break, the lead lap field led by Hocevar returned to pit road for service. Following the pit stops, Heim exited pit road first while Sanchez, Zane Smith, Hocevar and Eckes followed suit.
With 66 laps remaining, the final stage started as Heim and Sanchez occupied the front row. At the start, Heim took off with the lead from the inside lane as Sanchez engaged in a three-wide battle with Hocevar and Zane Smith for the runner-up spot through Turn 1. Smith and Hocevar then went three-wide on Heim for the lead through the backstretch as nearly the entire front-runners also fanned out in three tight-packed lanes. With Hocevar receiving no drafting help through the backstretch, however, Heim, who had Sanchez drafting help, managed to rocket his No. 11 Safelite Toyota Tundra TRD Pro ahead of Smith through Turns 3 and 4 to clear the field and retain the lead during the following lap.
Then with 63 laps remaining, Crafton’s Playoff hopes took a hit when he fell off the pace as a result of hitting the backstretch’s outside wall two laps earlier while battling in the top 12. Not long after, trouble struck for his teammate Rhodes, whom Crafton was battling for the final transfer spot to the Playoffs, as he was losing spots on the track amid reports of having a tire going down and making contact with the wall, but he continued to remain on the track as he plummeted to 26th while Crafton pitted his No. 88 Menards Ford F-150 and dropped out of the lead lap category. Amid the issues for both ThorSport Racing Playoff contenders, Heim retained the lead by two-tenths of a second over Hocevar and four-tenths of a second over Zane Smith with 60 laps remaining.
Then with 52 laps remaining, Hocevar, who spent the last few laps engaged in a fierce battle with Heim for the lead, overtook him to reassume the top spot. With Hocevar retaining the lead over Heim and Eckes with less than 50 laps remaining, the night went from bad to worse for Crafton, who pitted for a second time under green for repairs to his truck amid his late incident with the wall as he lost more laps from the leaders. By then, DiBenedetto, who was running eighth, was within close distance of racing his way into the Round of 8 over Rhodes, who still retained the final transfer spot to the next round but was mired back in 27th on the track.
As Rhodes, who went a lap down earlier, pitted for four fresh tires with 43 laps remaining, Hocevar found himself being intimidated for the lead by Heim, who trailed by two-tenths of a second, while third-place Zane Smith trailed by more than three seconds. By then, Eckes and Sanchez were in the top five while Taylor Gray, Enfinger, DiBenedetto, Majeski and Garcia were running in the top 10.
With 39 laps remaining, Heim pitted under green from the runner-up spot. A bevy of names that included the leader Hocevar, Taylor Gray, Stewart Friesen, Jake Drew, rookie Daniel Dye, Rajah Caruth, Hailie Deegan and Majeski pitted during the proceeding laps while Zane Smith, Sanchez, Eckes and Enfinger would pit during the next lap as DiBenedetto, who drew himself back into contention to still transfer to the Round of 8 but is still needing to make a pit stop, assumed the lead. DiBenedetto would then pit with 35 laps remaining as Tanner Gray assumed the lead.
Once the last wave of lead lap competitors pitted, among which included late leaders Tanner Gray, Jack Wood and Bret Holmes, Heim, who slid through his pit box during his green flag pit stop but managed to run ahead of Hocevar on the track, cycled back into the lead with 27 laps remaining. By then, Heim was leading by more than a second over Hocevar followed by Zane Smith, Eckes and Sanchez while Taylor Gray, DiBenedetto, Friesen, Caruth and Jake Drew were in the top 10. By then, Enfinger, who was penalized for speeding during his green flag pit stop, was back in 17th in front of Majeski while Rhodes and Crafton were mired in 26th and 35th, respectively.
Down to the final 20 laps of the event, Heim continued to lead by more than a second over Hocevar while Zane Smith, Sanchez and Eckes continued to run in the top five. By then, DiBenedetto, who was running seventh, was still scored eight points below the top-eight cutline behind Rhodes, who was still mired in 26th on the track while teammate Crafton was running 35th on the track and scored 12 points below the cutline.
Three laps later, the caution flew due to an accident involving Mason Maggio in Turn 3. During the caution period, the front-runners led by Heim remained on the track. With the event reaching its final 10-lap mark with the caution flag still displayed, some running in the middle of the pack, including Enfinger, Majeski and Rhodes, pitted for service while the rest led by Heim remained on the track.
When the race restarted under green with eight laps remaining, Heim received a strong push from Zane Smith’s No. 38 RTA Ford F-150 to boost ahead of Hocevar and retain the lead. Smith then made his move to Heim’s outside in a bid for the lead through the first two turns and through the backstretch while Hocevar tried to make it a three-way battle for the lead. Shortly after and amid the tight battle for the lead, the caution returned after Caruth and Tanner Gray wrecked across the frontstretch, with Caruth spinning across the frontstretch grass after getting turned by Gray while Gray spun back across the track and pounded the outside wall. At the moment of caution, Heim managed to retain the lead ahead of Zane Smith and Hocevar.
Down to the final two laps of the event, the race restarted under green. At the start, Heim and Zane Smith dueled for the lead through the first two turns and through the backstretch. Then exiting the backstretch, Eckes gained a massive run on the leaders as he bolted his No. 19 PEAK/NAPA Nightvision Chevrolet Silverado RST to the outside of Smith entering Turn 3. Eckes, Zane Smith and Heim then went three wide entering the frontstretch, with Heim nearly getting loose, as they battled for the lead and potential win.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Eckes was out in front by a hair over both Zane Smith and Heim while Taylor Gray, DiBenedetto and Hocevar battled for fourth place behind. Through the first two turns, Heim and Zane Smith muscled ahead of Eckes to make it a tight two-truck battle for the lead between them entering the backstretch. Then through the backstretch, Eckes crossed over to the inside lane and managed to overtake both Zane Smith and Heim for the lead entering Turn 3 before he slid up the track and stalled Smith’s momentum, which caused Smith to get loose. With Smith losing his momentum, Eckes managed to keep his foot on the gas pedal and muscle away from the field to cross the checkered flag with the victory in dramatic fashion and by three-tenths of a second.
With the victory, Eckes, who had secured a spot for the Round of 8 in the 2023 Craftsman Truck Series Playoffs based on points prior to Friday night’s event at Kansas, scored his fourth career victory in the series, his third of the season and his first since winning at Darlington Raceway in May. Ironically, all three of Eckes’ Truck victories this season have occurred in two-lap shootouts, but tonight was the first where Eckes won under green flag conditions, as the New York native and his No. 19 McAnally-Hilgemann Racing Chevrolet team proceeded toward their quest to win this year’s Truck Series championship.
“That was wild,” Eckes said on FS1. “I didn’t know if I was gonna win it or not. We had like a sixth-place truck all day, but that caution coming out, I knew we’d have a shot at it. Here we are. We haven’t won in a really long time, so [I] wanted to kind of set the tone and went a hell of a way to the Round of 10. [Finishes of] Second, third and first. Can’t beat that. Proud of all of these guys. Man, it’s awesome to be back in Victory Lane, for sure.”
Behind Eckes, Taylor Gray notched a career-best runner-up result in his 29th Truck career start followed by Matt DiBenedetto, who made a strong rally to finish third for his second top-five result of the season. The result, however, was not enough for DiBenedetto and the No. 25 Rackley W.A.R. team to advance to the Round of 8 as their Playoff run came to an end.
“Honestly this team fought so hard, worked their tail off to give me a good-looking truck and a good-handling truck all night,” DiBenedetto, who will be departing Rackley W.A.R. at the conclusion of the 2023 season, said. “Man, we made the most of it, for sure. Just so thankful for these guys, Rackley Roofing…I hate we missed [advancing to the Round of 8], man. It stinks we had an issue at Milwaukee and it took us out of it. We could be in that next round, but this team, they deserve to hold their heads high, for sure.”
Like DiBenedetto, Matt Crafton’s hopes for a fourth championship came to an end amid his late contact with the wall and series of unscheduled pit stops that resulted in him finishing in 33rd in the final running order and below the top-eight cutline. This season marks the second in a row where Crafton and his No. 88 ThorSport Racing Ford team have failed to transfer past the Round of 10.
“It is what it is,” Crafton said. “The cards were dealt. It folded really crappy for us, but at the end of the day, we had some speed. When [the truck] jumped sideways off of [Turn] 2, it hadn’t done that all night. Just caught me off guard. I gotta thank [my crew]. They worked their butts off today just from practice, wrecking that truck in practice and then, wrecking during the race. It wasn’t meant to be. We’ll go on and do it again next year.”
Amid the disappointment for DiBenedetto and Crafton, good fortune came for Ben Rhodes, who ended up 25th and managed to secure the eighth and final transfer spot to the Round of 8 by a mere margin. As a result, he and his No. 99 ThorSport Racing Ford team will continue their quest for a second Truck Series title.
“We were edgy all day long ever since we unloaded,” Rhodes said. “We kind of were predicting that it was gonna come to us in the race and it kind of went the opposite way. We ended up having a tire going down that caused me to hit the wall, it was just a mistake on myself. Mixed emotions tonight for this Kubota Ford F-150 team. The expectation is to make it to the next round, so just meeting the expectation isn’t necessarily a cause for celebration. We’re happy to advance, but at the same time, we’ve got to smoothen out some rough edges and make sure that bringing less mistakes and faster, more comfortable trucks.”
Heim, who led 40 laps, finished fourth while Zane Smtih fell back to fifth. Hocevar, Friesen, Sanchez, Tyler Ankrum and Jake Drew completed the top 10 on the track.
Corey Heim, Christian Eckes, Grant Enfinger, Carson Hocevar, Zane Smith, Ty Majeski, Ben Rhodes and rookie Nick Sanchez have officially transferred to the Round of 8 and will continue their quests to win this year’s Truck Series championship while Matt DiBenedetto and Matt Crafton have been eliminated from the Playoffs.
There were 18 lead changes for 11 different leaders. The race featured five cautions for 34 laps. In addition, 13 of 36 starters finished on the lead lap.
1. Christian Eckes, two laps led
2. Taylor Gray
3. Matt DiBenedetto, two laps led
4. Corey Heim, 40 laps led
5. Zane Smith, one lap led
6. Carson Hocevar, 32 laps led, Stage 2 winner
7. Stewart Friesen
8. Nick Sanchez, 43 laps led, Stage 1 winner
9. Tyler Ankrum
10. Jake Drew
11. Jake Garcia
12. Rajah Caruth
13. Jesse Love
14. Chase Purdy, one lap down
15. Dean Thompson, one lap down
16. Jack Wood, one lap down, two laps led
17. Grant Enfinger, one lap down, four laps led
18. Ty Majeski, one lap down
19. Colby Howard, one lap down
20. Bret Holmes, one lap down, two laps led
21. Bayley Currey, two laps down
22. Lawless Alan, two laps down
23. Daniel Dye, two laps down
24. Timmy Hill, two laps down
25. Ben Rhodes, two laps down, two laps led
26. Tanner Gray, three laps down, four laps led
27. Kaden Honeycutt, three laps down
28. Chase Janes, three laps down
29. Justin Carroll, four laps down
30. Hailie Deegan, four laps down
31. Spencer Boyd, five laps down
32. Greg Van Alst, five laps down
33. Matt Crafton, nine laps down
34. Jennifer Jo Cobb, nine laps down
35. Mason Maggio – OUT, Accident
36. Spencer Davis – OUT, Suspension
*Bold indicates Playoff contenders
1. Corey Heim – Advanced
2. Christian Eckes – Advanced
3. Grant Enfinger – Advanced
4. Carson Hocevar – Advanced
5. Zane Smith – Advanced
6. Ty Majeski – Advanced
7. Ben Rhodes – Advanced
8. Nick Sanchez – Advanced
9. Matt DiBenedetto – Eliminated
10. Matt Crafton – Eliminated
The Round of 8 in the 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Playoffs is set to commence next Thursday, September 14, at Bristol Motor Speedway. Coverage of the event is set to occur at 9 p.m. ET on FS1.