Race Weekend Central

Christian Eckes Dominates Bristol, Loses Win Late

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Christian Eckes, already in the midst of a career year in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, was well on his way to a fourth win in 2023 on Thursday (Sept. 14) night at Bristol Motor Speedway.

He sat on the pole, had led 151 of the UNOH 200’s 200 laps and the No. 19 was flat-out dominating. And then lapped traffic — and a bit of controversy — happened.

It came primarily in the form of eventual winner Corey Heim‘s teammate Tanner Gray, who ran his No. 15 high in the corner and allowed the eventual winner to pin Eckes’ No. 19 between the two TRICON Garage trucks. Eckes and Heim battled side-by-side for a short period before the No. 11 took the lead for good.

See also
Corey Heim Navigates Lapped Traffic, Wins at Bristol

“I mean, he didn’t really block me,” Eckes said when asked if Gray’s impediment was fair or foul. “Working on running his own damn race, that’s kind of the thing, right? I got tight because I had to pull off the wall at the last second and checked up, so. Not trying to make excuses. We lost the race, we weren’t good enough. Sucks.”

Eckes led Heim by a consistently comfortable margin, legging out a one-second lead within less than 10 circuits of a lap 80 restart. After lapped traffic had been a significant factor in the evening’s earlier ARCA Menards Series race, it reared its head again a few hours later.

Just five days after winning at Kansas Speedway, the McAnally-Hilgemann Chevrolet Silverado looked well on its way to a back-to-back week until the duel.

Eckes won both stages in a race that lasted an hour and 16 minutes, falling a couple tenths short of Heim. Heim drew closer as the laps wound down thanks to lapped traffic, but Eckes finally broke free of the lappers and re-extended his lead.

There were only four cautions, so the possibility of chaos was relatively minimal; the playoff drama mostly centered around a flat tire for Ty Majeski and a pit road penalty for Zane Smith.

The No. 11 soon grew larger once again in the No. 19’s mirror, finally completing the pass when his friendly neighborhood teammate Gray provided some aid on the high side.

“I got tight,” Eckes said of the closing laps. “[…] We need to be better at the end. Regardless of how I feel about [Heim’s] teammates blocking for him, it is what it is and we gotta move on.

“It was definitely a good points day, but just not good enough.”

Frontstretch sought out Gray post-race, who declined to comment.

With two weeks to prepare for Talladega Superspeedway, Eckes sits second in the playoff standings and first of the drivers not locked in, 29 points above the cutline. Stage points provided a cushion, but not solace.

“[Stage points] don’t really mean a damn thing any more,” Eckes said. “It’s cool to have stage wins or whatever, but it’s just points. The extra point or whatever, finishing second compared to first, could be life or death.”

About the author

Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he works as a producer and talent for Audacy Richmond's radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcasted numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. He's been a racing fan since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

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