By Holly Cain, NASCAR Wire Service
For the second consecutive week, the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series crowned a first-time winner. Christian Eckes, a 20-year old New York native, took the lead on a final restart with four laps remaining to claim his first trophy and lead a historic 1-2-3-4 finish for the ThorSport Racing team.
Eckes teammate Ben Rhodes finished .272-seconds back, followed by Playoff driver Matt Crafton and veteran Johnny Sauter who completed the ThorSport four-of-a-kind at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Todd Gilliland finished fifth after leading a race-best 66 laps.
Although understandably excited on the radio when he realized he’d won the race, Eckes was more subdued and reflective when he climbed out of his No. 98 ThorSport Toyota and greeted the crowd.
“Man, this is big,” said Eckes, formerly a Kyle Busch Motorsports driver, who was making only his ninth start in a part-time campaign with ThorSport this season.
“It’s been a tough year. That’s all I got to say, it’s been a tough year since last November. Hopefully, I proved I can still do this.
“I’m speechless. It’s been a rough year, been a rough year.”
With the runner-up effort, Rhodes was the top finishing Playoff driver in a race that saw five of the eight playoff contenders finish 20th or worse. Rhodes’ work, coupled with an uncharacteristically tough outing for regular-season champion John Hunter Nemechek changed the points standings for the first time since Week 3 of the season.
Rhodes, who won the opening two races of the season, now holds a six-point edge over Nemechek, who finished 33rd with mechanical problems as the series goes into the second race of this three-race Playoff round. Prior to his No. 4 KBM Toyota suffering issues, Nemechek earned his series-best 11th stage win, taking the opening Stage Friday night.
Playoff driver Stewart Friesen finished sixth, followed by Grant Enfinger, Austin Wayne Self, Ryan Truex, and Austin Hill.
Not only was it a rough night for the championship contenders – it was a bitter pill to swallow for Gilliland, who paced the race most of the night and had been leading prior to that last restart.
“I think that was the most fun I’ve ever had racing a truck, but it stinks walking away from a race track for the second straight week, ultra-disappointed,” said Gilliland, who won Stage 2 and led a race-best 66 laps. Last week, he was eliminated from Playoff contention by a mere two points.
The majority of current Playoff drivers could relate.
Carson Hocevar, who ran among the Top-10 most of the night, had a late-race green flag pit stop and ended up 22nd. Zane Smith was 29th and Chandler Smith and reigning series champion Sheldon Creed were 35th and 36th after being involved in a big accident on Lap 70.
“Restarts were insane all night,” Creed said, adding, “I didn’t have a great truck but thought we were a top-eight truck at least. Unfortunate, but it’s going to make Talladega fun and interesting.”
The series races next Saturday in the Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Talladega Superspeedway (1 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Raphael Lessard won the race in 2020.
Photo: Nigel Kinrade Photography