Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: Christian Eckes Carrying Late 2023 Momentum Into 2024 Title Run

The 2024 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series is almost halfway through the regular season. In fact, when the checkered flag falls after the next race at Kansas Speedway on Saturday (May 4), the regular season will be 50% complete.

Despite that, the playoff field is still wide open, as there’s still a potential for more than 10 winners. Meanwhile, the battles for both the regular season championship and the 10th-place cutoff are tight.

But Christian Eckes has already solidified himself as a favorite for the 2024 championship.

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Eckes currently is the only full-time driver to have multiple wins in 2024, both coming on the short tracks of Bristol Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway. At Bristol, he had to fend off Kyle Busch for the win, while Martinsville was more dominant for the No. 19.

As it stands, Eckes has only a two-point lead in the regular season standings over Corey Heim, who was far and away the favorite for the 2023 championship the whole season.

Coincidentally, it was Eckes who posed the biggest threat to Heim for the title last season.

Eckes began the 2023 playoffs by winning the pole at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park and finishing second, several spots ahead of Heim (eighth). Eckes again beat Heim in the next race at The Milwaukee Mile, finishing third with Heim coming in right behind him in fourth.

Then at Kansas, Eckes took Heim and Zane Smith three-wide on the final lap to steal a win, positioning himself real nice to begin the Round of 8.

Then the following race at Bristol changed everything.

Eckes was far and away the dominant truck, leading 150 of the 200 laps from the pole, while sweeping the stages. However, he was held up by Tanner Gray just enough to let Heim slip by for the 11th-hour win. With the win, Heim locked up a spot in the Championship 4 while Eckes had to continue to earn a spot in the next two weeks.

But a Championship 4 spot never materialized for Eckes, as a 19th and a 20th in the final two Round of 8 races resulted in Eckes’ elimination from the playoffs. While fifth place in the championship isn’t a poor result by any means, the Bristol race cost Eckes more than he could have possibly known.

Not just a spot in the Championship 4, but also the championship itself.

Eckes was the winner of the season finale at Phoenix Raceway, which would have given him the title had he won Bristol and advanced to the Championship 4. Instead, Ben Rhodes walked away from a disaster of a race with his second title in three years.

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Fast forward to 2024 and Eckes has carried his late 2023 surge of momentum well into a title run. He’s already won two of the seven races contested thus far, while Heim has only one win, coming at Circuit of the Americas. Only a DNF at Atlanta Motor Speedway has prevented Eckes from having an even bigger lead over the No. 11 team.

It doesn’t help Eckes that Heim is the only full-time driver to finish in the top 10 in every race so far this season; his lack of stage wins and stage points has really been what has kept Eckes close.

However, Eckes has to be feeling pretty good heading into the next few races.

The Truck Series heads to the aforementioned Kansas, where Eckes is the most recent Truck Series winner. Then it’s off to Darlington Raceway, where Eckes is also the defending winner, doing so in a good-looking Hershel McGriff throwback.

While North Wilkesboro Speedway was a bump in the road last year, Eckes finished sixth at Charlotte Motor Speedway, then followed that up with a runner up at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.

Eckes is certainly more consistent this year. Between his two wins last year at Atlanta and Darlington, he alternated solely between 15th- and 30th-place finishes (I’m not kidding. It’s a weird stat, look it up.) which really put a damper on his season early on.

2024 is different. Aside from Atlanta, Eckes hasn’t had a finish worse than 10th. His team, MHR, acquired a lot of the assets of GMS Racing, which shut down at the end of last season. The team expanded from two full-time trucks to almost five, if you count the alliance it has with CR7 Motorsports (with whom MHR shares a shop).

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One would imagine that Eckes’ biggest adversary will be Heim, who once again looks strong to open the season. The TRICON Garage driver was arguably robbed of the 2023 championship and, much like Eckes, has a chip on his shoulder.

But it’s clear that Eckes and MHR have a lot more positive momentum right now. They are the early favorite for the 2024 title. And it all stemmed from Eckes’ incredible surge late in the 2023 season.

A chance at redemption for missing out on the title last year is very feasible.

Truckin’ Tidbits

  • Racing phenom Connor Zilisch had three more races added to his Truck Series schedule. Along with his start at COTA, Zilisch was to compete with Spire Motorsports at Talladega Superspeedway and drive another Spire-affiliated truck at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Now Richmond Raceway, Bristol and Martinsville have been added to his schedule, totaling six races – five with Spire and one with a to-be-announced Spire-affiliated truck.
  • Kyle Busch Motorsports has dropped its lawsuit against Rev Racing over missed payments from its 2023 alliance. It was not announced whether or not an out-of-court settlement was reached.
  • Mason Maggio will drive a multi-race schedule with Reaume Brothers Racing, the same team he got his first Truck Series ride with, and the team he’s largely driven for throughout his Truck Series career. He will drive the team’s rotational No. 22 truck. His schedule has not been announced aside from the next race at Kansas. Maggio has attempted three races so far this season, starting two of them, with Floridian Motorsports. It is unclear what Maggio’s RBR deal means for Floridian or Maggio’s relationship with the fledgling team.
  • Lots of throwbacks have been released for Throwback Weekend at Darlington, and the Truck Series is no different. As for the best? Tune into next week’s edition of this column to find out. For now though, you can check out the constantly-updated list of throwback schemes for all three series here.

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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