Christian Eckes not only tamed Darlington Raceway on Friday night, but dominated by leading 82 laps on the way to his second NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS) victory of the season. The driver of the No. 19 Gates Hydraulics Chevrolet Silverado RST became the youngest NCTS victor in track history (22 years, six months, three days) and captured his series-leading fourth stage win to pile up a whopping 58 points at the night’s end. Eckes banked six critical playoff points and earned 11 more points than any other driver in the field by taking NASCAR Hall of Famer Hershel McGriff’s 1950 Southern 500 throwback paint scheme to victory lane.
Eckes was on his way to becoming the Darlington dominator from the first corner of the first lap, as he moved from his fourth starting position to second. He patiently waited for his first opportunity to pounce on the race lead and took the top spot on lap 27. Eckes drove away from the field to take his fourth stage win of the season on lap 45 by a margin of over two seconds.
Under the stage caution, crew chief Charles Denike and the Gates Hydraulics team serviced Eckes with four tires and fuel as the balance was nearly spot on. The MHR team got Eckes off pit road first with a four tire stop and allowed him to restart first on the lap 53 restart. The New York native settled into second position for the majority of the second stage, within striking distance of the leader, but overheated his tires too much to retake the lead. He ran in third position at the end of Stage 2 at lap 90 to earn eight points. Under the second stage caution, Eckes came to pit road for another batch of fresh tires, fuel, and a minor air pressure change for the final segment.
Eckes put on a restart clinic all evening, and the one on lap 99 was a turning point. He lined up second on the front row and proceeded to reclaim the lead and take control of the race. The final segment was littered with six of the race’s eight caution flags, and a yellow at lap 114 allowed most of the lead lap trucks to pit for fresh tires, including Eckes. He restarted third on lap 119 and immediately retook the lead, then pitted for the final time for tires under a caution at lap 128. He restarted second on lap 133, but instantly took the lead for good. Eckes would have to survive a pair of overtime restarts but sealed his second victory of the season by leading the final 27 laps.
Christian Eckes Quote:
“This is awesome. We had an incredible truck tonight. This MHR No. 19 was really, really fast. It pretty much drove itself. I’m excited, but I’m more excited for these guys. Just proud. Huge thank you to Gates Hydraulics, NAPA Auto Care, Adaptive One, Instacoat Premium Products. We were really good tonight, and we got to keep doing this. Just really cool. This is a historic place. It’s really cool to win here for Hershel (McGriff), for everybody on this team. Like I said, it’s been really, really rough the last couple, and to come back and do it like we did is really special.”
McAnally Hilgemann Racing PR