When the ARCA Menards Series started 2019 with its 56th visit to Daytona International Speedway to open its 67th season, Christian Eckes (No. 15 JBL Audio Toyota) led the field to the green flag from the General Tire Pole. Eckes would stay in the mix throughout the day, leading nine laps before coming away with a fourth-place finish, a solid start to his first run at the series championship.
Eckes also started from the pole in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck race at Daytona the next weekend. Eckes will join the top two finishers in the ARCA race at Daytona, race winner Harrison Burton and runner-up Todd Gilliland, as a teammate at Kyle Busch Motorsports for a partial season in the NASCAR Truck Series. Eckes raced at the front of the field throughout the first half of the Truck race before being involved in an accident not of his making and eliminated from contention. His hot start to the year reinforces his status as a favorite to win the ARCA Menards Series championship in 2019.
“Racing for the championship is something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” Eckes said. “I honestly haven’t run for a championship in big cars yet, so I’m really looking forward to getting this year on the road.”
Not only is Eckes a favorite to win the series championship, he is also a favorite to win the ARCA Pensacola 200 presented by Inspectra Thermal Solutions at Five Flags. Eckes won three times in a partial ARCA Menards Series schedule in 2018, all on short tracks one mile in length and under. Not only has Eckes proven his mettle on the ARCA short tracks, he’s proven himself at Five Flags as well. Eckes was the winner of the 2016 running of the famed Snowball Derby for super late models.
“The Snowball meant a lot,” Eckes said. “It feels like such a long time ago, but it really kickstarted my career in a way. That race has opened doors for me like no other, and I’m proud and honored to say I’m one of the 51 winners so far in its rich history.”
Eckes will also have a leg up on the competition since several members of his team have raced in ARCA competition at Five Flags, including team owners Bill and Billy Venturini and ten-time series champion Frank Kimmel, a crew chief within the Venturini Motorsports organization. Kimmel won the last ARCA race at Five Flags in 1996, the elder Venturini finished sixth in the first race in 1992, and the younger Venturini recorded a fifth-place finish in 1995.
“Venturini Motorsports has been crucial in my development over the years,” Eckes said. “When I met Billy and his family for the first time back in 2015, I had no idea the amount of help and opportunities they’d provide for me. I’m proud and happy to be with the best ARCA team in the garage for our fourth year running, and really excited to provide them a chance at a championship.”
Eckes and the rest of the ARCA Menards Series take to the half-mile Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida on Saturday, March 9. Practice starts at 1 pm ET/12 pm CT; General Tire Pole Qualifying is set for 4:30 pm ET/3:30 pm CT; and the ARCA Pensacola 200 is set to go green at 8 pm ET/7 pm CT and will be televised live on MAVTV. ARCARacing.com will have live timing & scoring, live chat, and live track updates throughout all on track sessions free for ARCA for Me members. New members may register for free at ARCARacing.com/login.