CONCORD, NC – JULY 27, 2019: Eighteen-year-old Christian Eckes (No. 15 JBL Audio Toyota) from nearby Middleton, NY returned to the site of his first childhood NASCAR memory and captured glory in Friday afternoon’s ARCA Menards Series FORTS USA 150 at Pocono Raceway.
Eckes, who’s played the underdog for much of the season since falling ill and missing out on the third race of the year made a statement and giant leap forward in his pursuit of teammate Michael Self and his pursuit of a series championship.
Handing Venturini Motorsports its 10th victory of the season, Eckes’ epic win came on the same day Toyota officially clinched its fourth Manufacturer’s championship in the ARCA Menards Series.
A virtual lock for ARCA rookie of the year, Eckes, took control on lap 35 when the dominant driver in the early stages of the race, General Tire Pole Award winner Todd Gilliland was penalized for a blend line violation after his only pit stop of the afternoon.
Eckes led the final 26 laps of the caution free race to score his second win of the season and fifth overall.
Once Eckes was alerted by his crew that he would be the leader after Gilliland’s penalty, he kept his head in the game to minimize mistakes.
“Once they told me what happened to Todd (Gilliland) it was all about keeping our heads down and not making any mistakes,” said the Toyota driver. “We knew there was a long way to go and we needed to be perfect to close it out.”
Earning his first speedway victory of this career, Eckes closes the gap on his Venturini Motorsports teammate and championship leader Michael Self (No. 25 Sinclair Oil Toyota), who finished third. Eckes knows with just five races remaining every point matters.
“We need to be perfect from here on out,” Eckes said. “Without missing the race at Salem, we’d be 150 points ahead. Without the last lap at Elko we’d be within 50 points or so. We were perfect here today and we need to be perfect every week from here on out. I’ve won at three of the five tracks and my crew chief Kevin Reed has won at all five of them so I am confident we can make a run at it.”
Self finished third in what was an uneventful race for the points leader.
“We had a right rear tire go down and we had to pit early,” Self said. “Once the field cycled through and we didn’t get a caution it evened out for us. We weren’t close to second place and we were way ahead of fourth so we were just trying to make sure we didn’t do anything to give it away at the end.”
Self continues to lead the series championship standings with an unofficial 90-point advantage over Eckes who has now moved into second. Holmes is now third, 110 points back and ninth-place finisher Travis Braden is fourth 150 points behind.
Chandler Smith (No.20 Craftsman Toyota), 17, the hottest driver going into yesterday’s event with four series wins on the season, finished eighth in his speedway debut at Pocono. Smith, who qualified third, lost track position early and was forced to serve a drive thru penalty after speeding on pit road during a green flag pit stop. Turing in another solid performance, Smith’s top-10, kept the No.20 Toyota team well in front in the owner point standings.
The next race for the ARCA Menards Series is the Allen Crowe Memorial 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds on Saturday, August 18. Practice on the one-mile dirt oval will begin at 10 am ET/9 am CT, General Tire Pole Qualifying is set for 12 n ET/11 am CT, and the 100-mile feature event will go green at 2:30 pm ET/1:30 pm CT. The race will be televised live flag-to-flag on MAVTV.