Race Weekend Central

Tracking the Trucks: Christian Eckes Steals Kansas In 3-Wide Last Lap Pass

All Christian Eckes needed was a restart.

Eckes made a bold three-wide move on Zane Smith and Corey Heim to steal the Craftsman Truck Series playoff race at Kansas Speedway on Sept. 8.

See also
Christian Eckes Steals Kansas Win in 2-Lap Shootout

Unlike Grant Enfinger’s three-wide pass for the win in the spring race, Eckes’ came on the final lap entering turn 3, outdueling Smith and Heim to take his third win of the season.

Ben Rhodes overcame contact with the wall to squeak through to the next round of the playoffs. Unfortunately, two drivers’ championship quest came to an end as well.

The Top Truckers at Kansas Speedway

Winner: Christian Eckes
Polesitter: Chase Purdy
Stage 1 Winner and Most Laps Led: Nick Sanchez – 43 of 134 laps led
Stage 2 Winner: Carson Hocevar
Rookie of the Race: Taylor Gray

Top Storylines of the Race

  • Chase Purdy earned his first career pole prior to the race, but it was quite a forgettable night for the No. 4 team. Purdy led just one lap, the opening lap, before fading in the field and eventually finishing 14th.
  • Two drivers made their return to the series after some time away. Spencer Davis drove Roper Racing’s No. 04 after making his last start two years ago for his own team. Unfortunately, Davis crashed the truck in practice, leading the team to start-and-park the truck after just one lap. Meanwhile, Jennifer Jo Cobb made her return to the sport after making just one start in 2022. Kansas is Cobb’s home track, and despite seemingly selling the assets of her team, she returned to Kansas with what she called a brand-new truck, hoping for a top-15. Unfortunately, she never found speed and finished 34th.
  • It was a relatively quiet race until 17 laps to go when Mason Maggio brought out a caution by hitting the wall hard. After a long caution, the following restart saw the caution immediately come back out after Rajah Caruth and Tanner Gray crashed. Both of these incidents were while Heim had the lead and set up the crazy finish.
  • Jesse Love and Jake Drew both made their second and third career Truck Series starts, and both performed pretty well. Love finished ninth and Drew finished 11th. However, Love was assessed a time penalty post-race for changing lanes prior to the start-finish line on the final restart and was dropped to 13th, giving Drew his first career Truck Series top-10 in his third career start.

The Winning Move

The final caution came out for Gray and Caruth, which set up a two-lap shootout. Heim was expected to pull away again, but Smith held tight to Heim’s quarter panel on the outside in turns 1 and 2 and heading down the backstretch. The loss of momentum allowed Eckes to make it three-wide around the outside.

Coming to the white flag, Smith and Heim made contact but still managed to pull back ahead of Eckes. However, Smith and Heim continued to side draft each other, and Eckes about wrecked his No. 19 with the elevator move he pulled entering turn 3 to get underneath both trucks.

Smith nearly lost his truck off of turn 4, and Heim also lost momentum, allowing Eckes to pull away for the thrilling win. Heim and Smith slipped back to fourth and fifth, respectively.

Championship Rundown

While Eckes had already advanced to the round of 8, the win gives him more playoff points to begin the round. Unfortunately for the two Matts, DiBenedetto and Crafton, their championship hunt ends.

Rhodes made significant contact with the wall during the race that caused him to go several laps down. But the stage points he earned throughout the event helped him jump into the plus side of the cutline at the expense of teammate Crafton. Crafton fell off the pace in the middle of the race, also making contact with the wall a few times. He ended up 33rd, nine laps behind Eckes.

See also
Ben Rhodes Advances to Round of 8 Despite Ugly 25th at Kansas

DiBenedetto entered Kansas 20 points below the cutline but made up some of that deficit by virtue of two stage points. Entering the final restart, DiBenedetto all but needed to win or somehow Rhodes needed to lose more positions, neither of which happened.

DiBenedetto made it through the chaos of the leaders to finish third, but that might be the most disappointing bronze in Truck Series history, as he missed the next round by just five points.

Entering the round of 8, here is what the standings look like.

Rookie Report

How about Taylor Gray? The rookie ended up with his best career finish, coming home second after sneaking through Heim and Smith. He was a factor in the top-10 most of the night, and that earns him Rookie of the Race.

Thanks to Love’s penalty, Drew earned his first career top 10, so he is worthy of a shoutout as well as Caruth, who rebounded to 12th even after the crash with Tanner Gray.

Author’s note: Love and Drew’s finishes are reflected post-penalty to Love.

No. 1 – Jesse Love (13th)
No. 2 – Nick Sanchez (eighth)
No. 17 – Taylor Gray (second)
No. 20 – Greg Van Alst (32nd)
No. 22 – Mason Maggio (35th)
No. 24 – Rajah Caruth (12th)
No. 32 – Bret Holmes (20th)
No. 33 – Chase Janes (28th)
No. 35 – Jake Garcia (11th)
No. 43 – Daniel Dye (23rd)
No. 61 – Jake Drew (10th)
No. 90 – Justin Carroll (29th)

One Thought About This Race

When is Sanchez’s day in the sun going to come?

The rookie led the most laps at Kansas, and now has the misfortunate active record of most laps led without a win (264). He’s qualified really well and shown he can win races, as he almost won at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway earlier this year, but he can’t seem to close the deal.

Sanchez finished eighth at Kansas, and it seemed like he couldn’t contend once he got mired back in traffic beyond the top five. He’s in the round of 8, and could very easily be a dark horse candidate for the Championship 4, but even if he makes it there, he likely will need to win that race at Phoenix Raceway to win the championship.

It’s not as simple as a crew or crew chief swap (Rev Racing has a technical alliance with Kyle Busch Motorsports), because Sanchez’s crew is arguably better than KBM’s pit crews. But Sanchez is more than capable of winning, and it’s a shame that he hasn’t made it to victory lane yet.

Talkin’ Truckers

McAnally-Hilgemann Racing, Eckes’ truck team, was ecstatic about the slide job Eckes pulled to seal the win:

“He just drove like a dumbass” – Caruth praises Love but not happy with him for starting the accident between him and Tanner Gray:

“Sad” – DiBenedetto disappointed he didn’t make the round of 8, but he left it all out there in his third-place finish:

Carson Hocevar wished he could be part of the fight for the win. Hocevar led 32 laps and won stage 2:

Rhodes had a difficult night and is looking forward to the round of 8:

Cobb was happy to be back at her home track despite her expectation of a top-15 not coming to fruition:

“It was crazier than it probably looked” – Smith came up short at Kansas but had a fun battle for the win:

Paint Scheme of the Race

Drew captured his first top-10 in style, thanks to a blue, white and green livery on his No. 61 Hattori Racing Enterprises truck with help from sponsor Cyclum Renewables Truck Stops.

Perhaps the best part about this scheme is the little cyclones along the side of the truck near Drew’s number.

Next Stop

The Round of 8 begins in Thunder Valley.

The Truck Series heads to Bristol Motor Speedway for its annual Thursday night trip to The Last Great Colosseum. The eight drivers still in contention for the championship will begin the fight to make the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway. Ty Majeski is the defending winner of the race.

The UNOH 200 Presented by Ohio Logistics will begin at 9 p.m. ET on Thursday, Sept. 14. FOX Sports 1 will carry the TV broadcast.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. 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.

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Alex Curits

In your opinion who was the last driver to EARN a race win? I watched a sprint car race this week where a driver led almost every lap, and he also “stole ” the race.

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