Race Weekend Central

Tracking the Trucks: Christian Eckes Passes Nick Sanchez in Final Turn to Win Atlanta

Frontstretch’s Truck Series content is presented by American Trucks

There’s no Mickey Mouse about it.

Christian Eckes led 35 laps and won stage one en route to taking the Craftsman Truck Series win at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday, March 18. It’s his second career win, with the first one coming back in 2021 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

More importantly, it was the first career Truck Series win for McAnally-Hilgemann Racing. Owner Bill McAnally has several ARCA Menards Series wins, but never a Truck Series win.

Rookie Nick Sanchez came home second, just barely missing out on his first career win. John Hunter Nemechek, Bayley Currey and Ben Rhodes rounded out the top five, respectively.

Top Storylines of the Race

The Positives:

  • Eckes had the truck to beat early on, as he led all 30 laps en route to the stage one win. A slow pit stop put him behind in stage two, and he only led five laps after that – but he showed up when it mattered most.
  • Sanchez and his Rev Racing team were finally able to put together a complete race. Despite some troubles throughout the race, including a crash with Corey Heim that ended Heim’s day, he made his way to the front and led late before taking home a second-place finish in his No. 2.
  • Matt Crafton was able to hold off Nemechek to win stage two. It is Crafton’s first stage win since he won stage two at Texas Motor Speedway in Oct. 2020. Despite being caught up in a late crash, he had a good points day and salvaged a ninth-place finish. He also led 29 laps on the day, more than he led in 2021 and 2022 combined.
  • Shoutouts are in order for Currey, who gained his best career finish in any of NASCAR’s premier series. Timmy Hill (seventh) and Jack Wood (10th) also had fantastic days and finished in the top 10.

The Negatives:

  • TRICON Garage had a horrible day. Four of its five trucks crashed in the event, with Nemechek the only truck to make it out of the ATL unscathed.
  • Likewise, Niece Motorsports fell apart at the very end of the race. A blown tire by Carson Hocevar on lap 124 sent him into the turn 3 wall, and teammate Lawless Alan could not get out of the way fast enough and ran right into the back of Hocevar, damaging both trucks. Currey was the lone Niece truck running in the top 10 at the finish.
  • Kaden Honeycutt’s promising day was cut short on lap 48. Honeycutt and his Roper Racing No. 04 took advantage of the choose rule for a lap 45 restart – he restarted second instead of seventh, taking the inside lane after the top six trucks all took the outside lane. He led his first career lap the next time by, but the engine inexplicably shut off shortly after and he ended up 33rd, 14 laps down.

Other Notable Storylines:

  • The new pit lane entrance at Atlanta debuted, but it was only utilized under yellow because of the way cautions fell.
  • Speaking of cautions, the series set a new record for yellow flags at Atlanta, as the field slowed 10 times throughout the event, with an 11th caution coming at the finish.

Playoff Picture

Now that the series is three races into the season, it’s finally time to start talking about the playoffs. No, it’s not too early either – the series has just 13 races left before the playoffs start due to its shorter season. So far, only Zane Smith and Eckes have locked themselves in. Right now, nobody else is safe, as the season is still just getting going. With the way cautions are falling left and right, we may see a tight bubble battle 10 races from now. Who knows?

Rookie Report

Sanchez is hands down Rookie of the Race, overcoming adversity to finish second. And, had he not gotten loose off of turn 4 on the final lap, he might have won the whole thing. But after two poor finishes to start the season, I’m sure his team will take second.

Shoutout as well to Rajah Caruth, who was a threat towards the end until a couple of bad breaks put him back in the pack at the checkered flag. Bret Holmes was also able to turn his luck and finish 13th, much better than the pair of sub-top-30 finishes to start his season.

No. 1 – Layne Riggs (28th)
No. 2 – Nick Sanchez (2nd)
No. 24 – Rajah Caruth (25th)
No. 32 – Bret Holmes (13th)
No. 35 – Jake Garcia (18th)
No. 43 – Daniel Dye (16th)

Paint Scheme of the Race

In honor of Women’s History Month, Hailie Deegan acquired a new sponsor, AdventHealth, but you wouldn’t know it based on the look of the truck. Instead of plastering the truck with its own logos, AdventHealth partnered with Deegan to showcase Women in NASCAR.

The decklid of Deegan’s No. 13 truck contained the names of every single woman who possesses a season-long NASCAR hard card, whether they work for a race team, NASCAR itself or as a member of the motorsports media.

In addition, the passenger name rail featured the name Sara Christian, the first-ever female driver in NASCAR history.

All around, this is a great scheme. Hats off to AdventHealth for the incredible gesture, leaving its own decals off to celebrate Women’s History Month. Not to mention, the blue-green combination looked real good in the Atlanta sun. Deegan finished 12th in this truck.

One Thought About This Race

Is it too early to label McAnally-Hilgemann Racing as a dark horse championship contender?

With Eckes’ strong start to the season, as well as some flashes of excellence from rookie teammate Jake Garcia, MHR has turned it around since 2022, when Derek Kraus and Colby Howard both missed the playoffs entirely. With Eckes’ win at Atlanta locking him into the playoffs, the focus shifts to Garcia, who looked good in the early stages of the race before a shock issue took him out of contention – but he still finished 18th.

Garcia probably would have been in contention to back up his 10th-place finish at Las Vegas, if not better it, especially if he had Eckes helping him out toward the end. It’s clear this team has turned itself around from the last two seasons, and maybe getting fresh drivers was the key to performing better.

It still might be too early in the season, but don’t be shocked to see MHR in the hunt for a championship (and with Garcia, it might be in the hunt for a Rookie of the Year title).

Where to Next?

Time to make some right turns.

The Truck Series returns to Circuit of the Americas for its first road course of the season. Zane Smith is the defending winner of the event. The XPEL 225 will take place on Saturday, March 25 at 1:30 p.m. ET as part of another doubleheader with the NASCAR Xfinity Series. Tune into FS1 for the coverage.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. He co-authors Only Yesterday (Wednesdays) and Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the site's primary Truck Series reporter and writer, and contributes to SRX coverage, too. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is currently pursuing his master of journalism at Temple University. He is a theatre actor and fight choreographer-in-training outside of Frontstretch. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Share this article