CONCORD, NC – AUGUST 16, 2019: Things are about to heat up in the ARCA Menards Series. With only five races remaining on the schedule the spotlight will begin to focus on the series’ driver championship chase when action resumes Sunday at the Illinois State Fairground’s dirt mile in Springfield, Ill.
At the center of conversation and leading the way into the final stage of the season are Venturini Motorsports’ teammates and front runners, Michael Self (No.25 Sinclair Oil Toyota) and Christian Eckes (No.15 JBL Audio Toyota).
Self, who holds an 80-point advantage in the standings on the strength of three wins (Five Flags Speedway, Salem Speedway and Michigan Int’l Speedway) has occupied the top spot for nearly three months. While Eckes, who picked up his second victory of the year last time out at Pocono Raceway, has incredibly fought his way back from an early season setback to move into second place in the standings to challenge Self for top honors.
While competitors on the track the two drivers maintain a professional approach and express mutual respect for one another.
“Christian is one of my best friends off the track and someone I really respect on the track,” says Self. “I know that he has good momentum and has a lot of experience at some of these upcoming tracks, and frankly I hope I can lean on him a little bit and learn from him. I don’t think we’re ever going to be fierce enough competitors that we aren’t willing to help one another or even root for one another to some extent.”
Eckes expresses similar feelings.
“I don’t think our relationship will change all that much,” says Eckes. “Michael and I have a strong friendship and even after Elko we didn’t let that come in between us. Obviously, it’s crunch time now so I’ll definitely be paying attention to where he is on the track and know that points count for everything. It should be an exciting finish.”
Eckes led the series standings after the second race of the season. He started the season with a fourth-place run at Daytona and backed it up with a third-place finish at Five Flags and looked to be in the proverbial cat bird’s seat heading into the third race of the season at Salem Speedway, a race he had won the year before.
But an overnight bout of food poisoning sent Eckes to the emergency room and put him on the sidelines. Instead, Daytona winner Harrison Burton would pilot Eckes’ car to an eighth-place finish. Eckes returned to the seat at Talladega but was involved in a mid-race crash that left him 26th in the 26-car starting field. In two races, Eckes went from a 65-point lead to a 180-point deficit.
Eckes (Eight top-5, 12 top-10’s and two General Tire Pole Awards) has made up 100 points of the 180-point deficit he had following the Talladega race and is now second in the standings. The winner earlier in the season at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville, Eckes punctuated the closure of the third quarter of the year with his win at Pocono and served notice to Self and the others that he will be a contender for the series title over the final five races.
Meanwhile, Self and his Sinclair Oil team have worked equally as hard to maintain their series’ lead. Despite a 31st place finish after getting caught up in a wreck during the season opener at Daytona Int’l Speedway and three no fault mid-season finishes outside the top-10, Self has remained focused and has delivered results.
In addition to his three wins, Self (11 top-5, 11 top-10 finishes) has also claimed five General Tire Pole Awards throughout the first 15 races.
With the stage set, Self and Eckes will launch their championship bids starting Sunday in the Allen Crowe 100 at Springfield.
Practice for the Allen Crowe 100 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.