Christian Eckes kicked off the 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series (NCTS) season in impactful fashion by scoring a third-place finish at Daytona International Speedway (DIS) on Friday night. The driver of the No. 19 NAPA Auto Care Chevrolet Silverado RST claimed the NCTS point lead with the top-five result after capturing the first stage victory. Eckes’ 50-point performance marked the first top-five result at a superspeedway for MHR, his second-straight podium finish at DIS, and the second-consecutive superspeedway event in which he led the most laps (19).
Eckes took the green flag from fourth position after advancing to the second round of qualifying on Friday afternoon. His assertiveness was on full display from the drop of the green as Eckes wheeled the NAPA Auto Care Chevrolet Silverado to the lead on the second lap. Two cautions waved for precipitation in the opening stage before Eckes worked the draft in the outside lane to perfection and snagged the Stage 1 win on lap 20 to secure 10 points and one playoff point.
Crew chief Charles Denike brought Eckes to pit road for a fuel only stop under the stage caution. He restarted in 10th on lap 26 for an abbreviated run in the second stage. A multi-truck accident on lap 29 broke up Stage 2, but Eckes once again inserted himself in the fight for the top spot. He threaded the needled in the middle lane to collect six points in fifth position at the end of the stage on lap 40.
Denike armed Eckes with four tires under the second stage caution, and allowed him to restart in eighth position on lap 48. A caution on lap 58 set up the final round of pit stops under yellow. Eckes took two tires just beyond the edge of the fuel window, but topped off with gas on lap 64 prior to the ensuing restart. He made quick work to rejoin the top five on lap 66. Eckes was in the process of utilizing the outside lane to make a bid for the top spot when another caution for precipitation waved on lap 69.
He was scored in third at the moment of caution and was credited with the podium result as the race was declared official after 79 circuits. Eckes holds a five-point advantage in the NCTS championship standings heading to Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
“Definitely a lot of positives,” Eckes said of the season-opening event. “We had a really fast No. 19 NAPA Auto Care Chevrolet and that’s all we got to show for it. Third is great with some good stage points. Good to build on, but obviously we want to win. So, just a huge thanks to everyone at McAnally-Hilgemann Racing and we’ll go to Vegas and try to win there.”
Start / Finish: 4 / 3
Points Standing / Total: 1st / 2,016 pts.
Next Race: Friday, March 3, Las Vegas Motor Speedway
How to Watch or Listen: FS1, MRN, SiriusXM