By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
After a hectic Playoff cutoff race for the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, both Christian Eckes and Todd Gilliland saw their championship hopes come to an end.
Eckes Playoff Hopes Dashed
The Playoff hopes for Eckes came to an end with less than half a lap to the finish at Talladega Superspeedway. The driver of the No. 18 Safelite Auto Glass Toyota Tundra was just outside the top-10 as the field entered turn three. Fellow Toyota Racing Development driver Stewart Friesen got out of shape battling for the lead.
Friesen slipped back, forcing Eckes four-wide with others. The duo collided setting off a multi-truck crash that swept up Austin Hill, Tyler Ankrum, and others. Both Eckes and Hill were unable to continue, relegating the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver to an 18th-place finish. After the final points were tallied, Eckes was on the outside, looking in.
“I just came up short,” Eckes admitted. “Sucks that we are not going to be able to move on to round two, but in the same aspect my Safelite Toyota team tried hard. We did all we could. I’m sure we made some mistakes on the day like the pit road penalties and some other things, but we will move on to the last four races and give the Playoff guys hell.”
Optimism for Eckes
Eckes was knocked out of the Playoffs despite finishing inside the top-five in the first stage of the Chevrolet Silverado 250. An accident ended the second stage before the 19-year-old could move into the top-10 to earn additional points. Although Eckes is no longer competing for a title, he is still searching for his first career victory in the Truck Series. That was a fact not lost on the Middletown, N.Y. native.
“We don’t have any championship hopes on the line, unfortunately, anymore,” explained Eckes. “But, in the same aspect, there is still plenty of team goals to achieve. We will do the best we can. I wish we did a little bit better in the first two races of this round to separate us, but that’s 2020 and we will move on to the next four.”
Pending how the remaining Playoff races go for Zane Smith, Eckes could still earn Rookie-of-the-Year honors.
Gilliland’s Championship Hopes go up in Smoke
While Eckes’ championship hopes came to an end on the final lap, Gilliland’s went up in smoke just past halfway. After pushing Eckes to the lead in the first Stage and running up front in the second, it looked like the Front Row Motorsports driver was in prime position to move into a transfer position.
However, just laps into the start of the final stage, smoke began billowing from the No. 38 Speedco Ford F-150. As the field reacted to Gilliland’s expiring engine, trouble broke out behind him. His Ford Performance teammate, Tanner Gray, was turned into the inside wall, ending his day as well.
Under the ensuing caution, the Sherrills Ford, N.C. native brought his ailing truck to the attention of his pit crew. After a quick look under the hood, the truck was pushed back to the garage. A pool of oil left behind in the box.
Both drivers will now attempt to play the role of Playoff spoiler at an historic third trip to Kansas Speedway for the Truck Series this season.
Photo by NKP / NKP Photo