By Jacob Seelman, Featured Contributor
Eckes will kick off his third full-time Truck Series season with a new team, a new manufacturer and a fresh perspective as he looks to “put all the pieces together” and finally reach his full potential at NASCAR’s national level.
The Middletown, N.Y., native will race with Chevrolet for the first time in his NASCAR career this season, leaving the Toyota Racing Development pipeline for the McAnally-Hilgemann Racing team co-owned by multi-time ARCA Menards Series West champion owner and well-known businessman Bill McAnally.
It’s a big change for Eckes, but one that he feels is needed as he begins his pursuit of the Truck Series championship once again.
“I think I’ve underperformed, honestly, over the last four years with where I’ve been and where I want to be,” Eckes told Kickin’ the Tires. “Sometimes you just need something different, and I feel like this move to Chevrolet, with a new manufacturer, new team and a new crew, will be a good thing for me.
“I think starting fresh is sometimes what you need to succeed, and I think we’ll be pretty good this year, for sure.”
In recalling how his new deal with McAnally-Hilgemann came about, Eckes noted that while the winter months were “hectic at times,” that he feels better about himself and his situation than he has in several years.
“It’s been kind of a crazy offseason, with a lot of change both professionally and personally, but it’s all been good change,” Eckes said. “This deal getting done was actually pretty informal at first. I was still trying to figure out what my place was at ThorSport [Racing], and there were some alternatives that could have been worked out … but Bill [McAnally] texted me about a week before I made my decision [to leave] and randomly asked me what I was doing next year.
“That following Monday, I went to ThorSport and it became clear that there was a place for me, but at the same time it wasn’t exactly what I felt like was the right fit now for everything I still want to achieve in the sport,” he continued. “I’m grateful to everyone over there for everything they did for me over the past two seasons, but all good things do come to an end at some point and I’m excited for the new opportunities that are ahead of us now with McAnally-Hilgemann Racing.”
Eckes steps into the ride previously piloted by another young NASCAR prospect, Derek Kraus, which nearly triumphed in a handful of Truck Series races in 2022 but never could quite cross the threshold into victory lane.
“I knew the potential,” Eckes said of what he sees in the No. 19 team. “They’ve run really well over the past few years and, I feel like, they’re in the same situation that I am. They have all the resources that they need to be successful, but at the same time, they’ve underperformed also. So I think this fresh start may just be what we both need.
“Being able to put together some races and win, like I know this team can and I can, will be a benefit for both sides.”
Though Eckes did win a Truck Series race at Las Vegas (Nev.) Motor Speedway in 2021 during a part-time schedule with ThorSport, a winless campaign last season and a disappointing eighth-place finish in the championship standings were “character-building moments” in his still-young career.
“I think, if you look back to 2020, I had a lot of missed opportunities and races that I probably should have won while I was at KBM [Kyle Busch Motorsports] and didn’t put everything together,” Eckes reflected. “Of course, 2021 was part time, and then last year I had six or seven opportunities to get the job done and the breaks just never quite went our way at the end.
“It was a consistent year last year, but a learning year as well in what I can control versus what I can’t control, and I think I learned a lot about myself and what I need to succeed that will serve me well coming out of the offseason and into this new year and with this new scenery around me.
“But I know that I’m able to do this and I feel like this team is able to do it as well, so as long as we keep building nice race cars and fighting each and every week, that’s all you can really ask for.”
With fresh knowledge and perspective in his pocket, it’s a new Eckes that takes to the track this year: one that has reignited the competitive fire he feels is required to succeed in the NASCAR garage.
“I think there was a certain point about three years ago where that fire inside kind of stopped, and I didn’t have the will to win that I’ve had for 10 years or so,” Eckes admitted. “Over the past four months, though, I feel like I’ve started to figure out some of what the problems were and why I couldn’t seem to finish the deal in these races.
“Rekindling the fire that I had, with a new situation, has helped me a lot and I think it’s a bigger thing than people realize,” he added. “We have all the pieces to the puzzle, great people and great trucks, so we can go out and contend for a championship. I’m confident in that and so is Bill.
“We just have to use the tools in our toolbox the best we can, or all this will be for nothing and we don’t want that.”
Eckes will kick off his pursuit of a victory at Daytona Int’l Speedway during Friday night’s NextEra Energy Resources 250, which goes green at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1, the Motor Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.