Eckes fends off Busch to capture his first Truck Series victory at Bristol

Six months after having a victory at Bristol Motor Speedway slip from within his grasp after a dominant performance, Christian Eckes settled his score with the Last Great Coliseum with a redemptive victoryWeather Guard Truck Race at Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday, March 16, following a late battle against former team owner Kyle Busch. 

It was his first win of the season, his first at Bristol, and his sixth career victory.

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

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

The 23-year-old Eckes from Middletown, New York, led twice for a race-high 144 of 250-scheduled laps in his No. 19 McAnally Hilgemann Racing Silverado after starting on the pole and leading the first 52 laps before Busch overtook him. After spending most of the event trailing Busch, Eckes seized an opportunity during a restart period with 98 laps remaining to make contact with Busch. A heated battle for the lead ensued and two laps later Eckes overtook Busch to reclaim the lead.

Then during a late caution period with 32 laps remaining, Eckes, who retained the lead over Busch and Matt Crafton amid lapped traffic, capitalized on the final restart period. With 24 laps remaining, he drove away from the field and beat Busch to the finish line by a tenth of a second to claim his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory of the 2024 season. 

With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup on Saturday, Eckes captured his first Truck pole position of the 2024 season after posting a pole-winning lap at 126.888 mph in 15.122 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Nick Sanchez, who posted the second-fastest qualifying lap at 126.212 mph in 15.203 seconds. 

Prior to the event, Mason Maggio dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments on his entry. 

When the green flag waved and the race started, Eckes rocketed ahead of Sanchez and Kyle Busch for the lead through the first two turns. With Sanchez getting loose in Turn 3 and nearly stacking up the field, Eckes led the first lap over Busch. Eckes would retain the lead over Sanchez and Busch through the first five scheduled laps. l

On the sixth lap, the event’s first caution period occurred after Matt Mills spun on the frontstretch, though he proceeded without sustaining any significant damage to his Niece Motorsports entry. 

When the event restarted under green on Lap 12, Eckes used the outside lane to his advantage for a second time as he muscled away from Sanchez through the first two turns while Taylor Gray tried to follow suit. Gray overtook Sanchez for the runner-up spot during the following lap as Busch, Rajah Caruth and Ty Majeski followed suit. Amid the early battles, Eckes stretched his advantage to six-tenths of a second by the Lap 15 mark and to a second by the Lap 20 mark, over Gray. 

Through the first 30 scheduled laps, Eckes led by nearly a second over Gray with Sanchez, Busch and Majeski completing the top five. Zane Smith was in sixth place followed by Tyler Ankrum, Kaden Honeycutt, Rajah Caruth and Ben Rhodes while Grant Enfinger, Chase Purdy, Corey Heim, Daniel Dye and Connor Jones were running in the top 15 ahead of Jake Garcia, Tanner Gray, Matt Crafton, Bayley Currey and William Sawalich. 

Fourteen laps later, the caution flew after Stefan Parsons made contact with Keith McGee entering the backstretch resulting in McGee making contact with runner-up Taylor Gray before he spun toward the bottom of the track. The incident occurred as both McGee and Parsons were lapped by Eckes. During the caution period, some of the drivers pitted, including Jake Garcia, Tanner Gray, Bayley Currey, Layne Riggs, Sawalich and Ty Dillon while the rest of the field, led by Eckes remained on the track. 

During the following restart period on Lap 52, Kyle Busch used the inside lane to his advantage as he managed to overtake Eckes through the backstretch to assume the lead. Then, Eckes was challenged by Sanchez for second place. Busch retained the lead during the Lap 55 mark and the Lap 60 mark. 

When the first stage period concluded on Lap 65, Busch captured his second stage victory of the 2024 Truck season. Eckes settled in second followed by Sanchez, Majeski and Zane Smith while Taylor Gray, Ankrum, Rhodes, Honeycutt and Enfinger were scored in the top 10. 

Under the stage break, some including Taylor Gray, Caruth, Corey Heim, Connor Jones and Ty Dillon pitted while the rest led by Busch remained on the track. Amid the pit stops, Caruth, who slid through his pit box, was issued an improper driver assist. 

The second stage period started on Lap 76 as Busch and Eckes occupied the front row. Busch retained the lead as Eckes was being pressured from behind by Sanchez and Majeski. As teammates Ankrum and Zane Smith battled for fifth place in front of Ben Rhodes, Busch slowly started to stretch his advantage just past the Lap 80 mark. 

Just past the Lap 100 mark, Busch was leading by two-tenths of a second over Eckes followed by Sanchez, Majeski, Ankrum, Zane Smith, Rhodes, Stewart Friesen, Crafton and Riggs as Honeycutt, Enfinger, Purdy, Daniel Dye and Sawalich pursued in the top 15. 

Ten laps later, Busch retained the lead by four-tenths of a second over Eckes while Sanchez, Majeski and Zane Smith were running in the top five. Busch would continue to lead by four-tenths of a second over Eckes by the Lap 120 mark. 

When the second stage period concluded on Lap 130, Busch, who was mired in lapped traffic, captured his second stage victory of the night and the third of his part-time Truck campaign. Sanchez prevailed in a late battle over Eckes for second while Majeski, Zane Smith, Ankrum, Friesen, Crafton, Rhodes and Riggs were scored in the top 10. 

During the stage break, the lead lap field led by Busch pitted for service. Following the pit stops, Busch retained the lead over the field after he exited pit road first. Amid the pit stops, Sawalich was penalized for speeding on pit road while Caruth was deemed to have pitted outside of his pit box. In addition, Sanchez would pit his Rev Racing entry for a second time as he was mired towards the rear of the field. 

With 108 laps remaining, the final stage commenced as Busch and Eckes occupied the front row. At the start, Busch moved in front of Eckes as he transitioned from the outside to the inside lane to retain the lead. Eckes fended off teammate Ankrum as he pursued Busch for the lead. Another lap later, however, the caution returned. Majeski, who was battling Ankrum for third place, got loose and spun entering the backstretch before he was hit by teammate Ben Rhodes, with both ThorSport Racing competitors making contact with the inside wall while the rest of the field scattered and slammed on the brakes to avoid the chaos. 

The next restart period came with 98 laps remaining and featured Busch and Eckes briefly battling for the lead through the first two turns and the backstretch until Busch cleared Eckes entering the frontstretch. Eckes, however, fought back on the inside lane and attempted to overtake Busch through Turns 3 and 4. Then, Eckes slipped sideways and made contact with Busch, sending Busch nearly sideways entering the frontstretch. Busch, however, recovered and kept the lead.  

With 92 laps remaining, however, Eckes drove his No. 19 NAPA Chevrolet Silverado RST past Busch’s No. 7 Group 1001 Chevrolet Silverado RST entering the backstretch, to regain the lead. Shortly after, Matt Crafton would draw his No. 88 Menards Ford F-150 close to Busch’s entry in a battle for the runner-up spot, all while Eckes stretched his advantage to eight-tenths of a second with 85 laps remaining.  

With 75 laps remaining, Eckes was leading by seven-tenths of a second over Busch as Crafton, Zane Smith and Ankrum were running within less than five seconds of one another in the top five. Behind, Enfinger was in sixth place while Heim, Riggs, Friesen and Taylor Gray were in the top 10. 

Fifteen laps later, Eckes stretched his advantage to more than a second over Busch while Crafton trailed in third place by less than two seconds. Eckes’ advantage, however, shrank to half a second over Busch with less than 45 laps remaining.  

Then with 32 laps remaining, the caution flew after Sanchez and Friesen, who were running in the top 10, made contact entering the frontstretch amid pressure by Busch and Crafton for the lead.    

With 24 laps remaining, the race restarted under green as Eckes drove away from Busch on the outside lane to retain the lead. Amid the late battles ensuing behind, Eckes would maintain his advantage with 20 laps remaining and with 10 laps remaining.  

Down to the final five laps of the event, Eckes continued to lead by less than seven-tenths of a second over Busch, who was trying to narrow the gap. 

When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Eckes, who was mired in lapped traffic, remained as the leader by three-tenths of a second over Busch. Despite Busch cutting the deficit to a tenth of a second for a final circuit around Bristol, the late momentum was not enough as Eckes was able to fend off Busch at the finish line to claim the checkered flag. 

With the victory, Eckes, who conquered his first victory at Bristol, achieved his sixth career victory in the Craftsman Truck Series and his first since winning the 2023 finale at Phoenix Raceway as he became the fourth winner through the series’ first four events of the 2024 schedule. He also recorded the first victory of the season for McAnally-Hilgemann Racing. 

“It’s so sweet,” Eckes said on FS1. “There’s just so much behind this win, from last year, missing out on the Championship 4 and losing the race with five [laps] to go. To come back and redeem ourselves is our number one goal. Not only that, but the first three races, how terribly they’ve gone. We’ve had a lot of issues and to come back and run really good, it shows the resilience of this team. Just super pumped. Ready for the next 19 races.” 

Busch, who led 105 laps, settled in second place in his third Truck event of the 2024 season. His next series’ start of the season will occur at Texas Motor Speedway on April 12 followed by Darlington Raceway on May 10. 

“We tightened [the truck] all day and obviously, I don’t think we were as tight as [Eckes] at the end, but, you know, just track position,” Busch said. “I let [Eckes] go early in that run to just go burn his stuff off and track position at the end, just aero effects. [I] Didn’t have enough rubber on the road to outduel him.” 

Zane Smith came home in third place in his second Truck start of the 2024 season as Matt Crafton and Tyler Ankrum finished in the top five. Corey Heim, Taylor Gray, Rajah Caruth, Grant Enfinger and rookie Layne Riggs settled in the top 10 in the final running order. 

There were four lead changes for three different leaders. The race featured six cautions for 50 laps. In addition, 17 of 36 starters finished on the lead lap. 

Following the fourth event of the 2024 Craftsman Truck Series season, Tyler Ankrum continues to lead the regular-season standings by 17 points over Corey Heim, 22 over Rajah Caruth, 29 over Ty Majeski and 32 over Christian Eckes. 

Results. 

1. Christian Eckes, 144 laps led 

2. Kyle Busch, 105 laps led, Stage 1 & 2 winner 

3. Zane Smith, one lap led 

4. Matt Crafton  

5. Tyler Ankrum 

6. Corey Heim 

7. Taylor Gray 

8. Rajah Caruth 

9. Grant Enfinger 

10. Layne Riggs 

11. Bayley Currey 

12. Kaden Honeycutt 

13. Daniel Dye 

14. Jake Garcia 

15. Tanner Gray 

16. Ben Rhodes 

17. Nick Sanchez 

18. Stefan Parsons, one lap down 

19. Connor Jones, one lap down 

20. Ty Dillon, one lap down 

21. William Sawalich, two laps down 

22. Stewart Friesen, two laps down 

23. Dean Thompson, three laps down 

24. Timmy Hill, three laps down 

25. Matt Mills, three laps down 

26. Thad Moffitt, four laps down 

27. Lawless Alan, four laps down 

28. Mason Massey, five laps down 

29. Mason Maggio, six laps down 

30. Spencer Boyd, eight laps down 

31. Bret Holmes, eight laps down  

32. Keith McGee, 12 laps down 

33. Chase Purdy, 22 laps down 

34. Ty Majeski – OUT, Engine 

35. Trey Hutchens – OUT, Suspension 

36. Justin Carroll – OUT, Brakes 

Next on the 2024 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series schedule is the fourth annual running of the XPEL 225 at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. The event is scheduled to occur next Saturday, March 23, and air at 1:30 p.m. ET on FS1. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com

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