Christian Eckes wins at Darlington for second Truck Series victory of 2023
After five weeks of frustration, Christian Eckes got the rebound he needed on Friday night at Darlington Raceway.
Leading a race-high 82 of 158 laps, Eckes scored a convincing double-overtime victory in the Buckle Up South Carolina 200, the ninth event on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series schedule.
MORE: Race results | At-track photos: Darlington
The win was Eckes‘ second of the season and third of his career. It followed a string of five races in which the driver of the No. 19 McAnally-Hilgemann Racing Chevrolet — dressed Friday in a throwback tribute to new NASCAR Hall-of-Famer Hershel McGriff — had finished 30th three times and 15th twice.
“I don‘t really feel that excited, because the truck was so good it drove itself,” said Eckes, who won the race under caution after Grant Enfinger and Nick Sanchez tangled in the second overtime. “It‘s been a really, really rough couple of weeks.
“To come back and win shows the resilience of this team, and how we had to win it just shows the fight in this team … I was really determined. It‘s really, really fun to be here, man, and when you have a truck like this, you‘ve just got to finish it out.”
A late charge and an excellent restart in the first overtime vaulted Stewart Friesen into second place at the finish. Tanner Gray ran third, followed by full-time NASCAR Cup Series driver William Byron and Carson Hocevar.
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A spin by Timmy Hill through Turn 4 at Lap 146 sent the race into NASCAR Overtime. On the first attempt, rookie contender Jake Garcia washed high at the exit of Turn 2 and into the outside wall. His slowed momentum resulted in contact from behind, spinning his No. 35 Chevrolet backward into the inside SAFER barrier.
Eckes was at the head of the field when the caution flag was displayed just after taking the white flag to signify the final lap. Grant Enfinger’s contact with the outside wall brought out the eighth and final yellow of the evening.
The early stages of the race rapidly evolved into a contest between Eckes, Byron and pole winner Corey Heim, who led the first 26 laps before Eckes passed him for the Stage 1 victory and led 35 laps in Stage 2 before Byron passed him for the stage win with three laps left in the segment.
The first two stages ran caution-free to the breaks, but the complexion of the race changed markedly during the final stage and overtimes, which produced six cautions. Byron would have preferred longer green-flag runs.
“We needed a little bit longer runs, I think,” said Byron, who was driving the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports entry and seeking the 100th victory for that organization. “Our truck was strong on longer runs — we just had too many medium to short runs, and it was hard to get track position there to advance forward. …
“Hopefully, we learned some stuff for the Cup race (on Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). We usually run really good here, so it‘s just a matter of trying to put it all together and learn some nuances with the race track, so hopefully we did that.”
Heim led four times for 66 laps but took himself out of contention by failing to pit with the rest of the lead cars on Lap 116. He led the field to the restart on Lap 119 of a scheduled 147 but quickly fell back through the field.
Heim, however, pitted for fresh tires before the first overtime and recovered to finish eighth on the new rubber.
Reigning series champion Zane Smith, who was part of a three-car accident on Lap 101 and finished 22nd, retained the series lead by nine points over Ty Majeski, who came home 35 laps down in 31st after his crew changed the steering box in his ThorSport Racing Ford.
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The series returns to the historic North Wilkesboro Speedway for its 10th race of the season on Saturday, May 20 (FOX, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Note: Post-race technical inspection concluded with no issues, confirming Eckes as the race winner.
Contributing: Staff reports