Christian Eckes continued his strong start to the 2023 NASCAR Cratfsman Truck Series season with a sixth-place result on Friday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (LVMS). The finish marks Eckes’ second-straight top-10 finish as has the driver of the No. 19 NAPA Auto Care Chevrolet Silverado RST sits third in the championship standings after two events. In seven trips to LVMS, Eckes has now collected top-10 finishes in six starts.
The Middletown, N.Y., native laid down the 12th-fastest lap in pole qualifying and began the 134-lap event from the outside of row six. Eckes wasted little time making moves towards the front as he immediately broke into the top-10 and advanced to fifth by lap three. A caution on lap 19 brought Eckes within reach of the leaders and provided an opportunity to battle for the stage win. On lap 29, Eckes sent his Chevrolet through the middle of a three-wide race for the lead into Turn 3 and was forced to make a stunning sideways save. The aggressive move displayed immense truck control and preserved his Silverado RST for the remainder of the evening.
Crew chief Charles Denike brought Eckes to pit road under the first stage caution for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment to tighten the balance on the NAPA Auto Care Chevrolet. Eckes restarted 24th on lap 36 but took full advantage of two restarts during the second segment to regain his track position. He advanced from 20th to 12th on the lap-45 restart and drove from seventh to fourth on the lap-53 restart. A third caution during the second stage flew on lap 54 and brought most of the front runners to pit lane, including Eckes. Another batch of fresh tires and fuel set the No. 19 team up to contend for the victory in the later laps but relegated them out of stage points at lap 60 after being scored 13th.
After sustaining minor left side damage by avoiding an incident on lap 60, Denike kept Eckes on track during the stage caution, which proved to be the prudent decision. Eckes grabbed the runner-up position on lap 68 following the final restart and challenged eventual victor Kyle Busch for the race lead. As the evening’s longest green flag run wore on, Eckes’ handling condition swung loose, losing rear lateral grip. While running fifth, Eckes made his final pit stop under green on lap 100 and cycled back around to the fifth position by lap 111. His Chevrolet remained on the loose side for the remaining 23 circuits as he drove to the checkered flag in sixth position.
“This No. 19 NAPA Auto Care Chevrolet was really, really fast tonight,” Eckes said. “I felt like it was race-winning capable. Super proud of everybody, a little too aggressive on my end, but we’ll go to Atlanta and race them hard there. It was pretty easy (coming through the field). I pride myself on restarts and was just able to drive through the pack the couple times we restarted pretty deep. We had a really fast truck tonight and we’ll try to put it all together at Atlanta in a couple weeks.”
Start / Finish: 12 / 6
Points Standing / Total: 3rd / 81 pts. (-4)
Next Race: Saturday, March 18, Atlanta Motor Speedway
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