Double Down: Christian Eckes tames Darlington with double overtime victory
Leading a race-high 82 laps, McAnally-Hilgemann Racing’s Christian Eckes survived some late race overtime chaos to take the win in Darlington Raceway last weekend. Eckes was able to hold off several drivers, including polesitter Corey Heim, Cup Series regular William Byron, and Stewart Friesen to take the win.
The win was Eckes’ second of the season and his third of his career, following a string of five races in which the driver of the No. 19 McAnally-Hilgemann Racing Chevrolet had finished 30th three times and 15th twice.
Halmar Friesen Racing’s Stewart Friesen launched himself into a season-best second-place finish after a superb restart that put him just behind Eckes in the first overtime. This was Friesen’s third top-10 finish in five races at Darlington Raceway. Tanner Gray ran third, despite struggling with his car early in the race.
With his second win of the season, Eckes has moved into fifth in the CRAFTSMAN Truck Series driver standings, just 39 points back from Zane Smith in the standings lead. Eckes is one of five drivers that have secured their spot in the Playoffs later this season – Zane Smith (two wins), Christian Eckes (two wins), Corey Heim, Grant Enfinger and Carson Hocevar (each have one win).
CRAFTSMAN Truck Series returns to North Wilkesboro Speedway
For the first time in 27 years, the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series is returning to North Wilkesboro Speedway for the Tyson 250 (Saturday, May 20, at 1:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
Deep in the heart of North Carolina moonshine country, the homecoming to the 0.625-mile track is the return to some of NASCAR’s oldest and deepest roots. North Wilkesboro Speedway is unlike any other track on the schedule. It is a paved oval that runs downhill on the frontstretch and uphill on the backstretch.
North Wilkesboro has hosted two CRAFTSMAN Truck Series races with the inaugural event being held in the series’ first season (September) 1995, and the race was won by Mike Bliss driving a Ford for car owner Jim Smith. The inaugural race had 32 entries and produced nine lead changes among six different leaders.
The CRAFTSMAN Truck Series last raced at North Wilkesboro in 1996, when NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Mark Martin took the checkered flag in his second career CRAFTSMAN Truck Series race. It was the first victory by a driver who was not a regular in the series since Terry Labonte had won at Richmond in 1995. Martin won the race driving the No. 99 Ford for RFK Racing.
NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series
Next Race: Tyson 250
The Place: North Wilkesboro Speedway
The Date: Saturday, May 20
The Time: 1:30 p.m. ET
The Purse: $696,922
TV: FS1, 1 p.m. ET
Radio: MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Distance: 156.25 miles (250 Laps); Stage 1 (Ends on Lap 70),
Stage 2 (Ends on Lap 140), Final Stage (Ends on Lap 250)
Five competitors have earned spots in the CRAFTSMAN Truck Series Playoffs
With seven races left in the regular season, here’s a look at the current CRAFTSMAN Truck Series Playoff standings:
Five drivers have earned a spot in the 2023 NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series Playoffs by virtue of wins this season – Zane Smith (Daytona, COTA), Christian Eckes (Atlanta, Darlington), Carson Hocevar (Texas), Corey Heim (Martinsville), and most recently, Grant Enfinger (Kansas).
Currently in on Points:
Three drivers have built up a points cushion of 33 points or more over the Playoff cutoff following Darlington – Ty Majeski (102 points above the Playoff cutoff), Ben Rhodes (+74), and Matt Crafton (+35).
Just 27 points above the cutoff and ranked ninth in the CRAFTSMAN Truck Series Playoff outlook is TRICON Garage’s Tanner Gray. Following behind Gray is Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Nick Sanchez, just six points above the cutoff.
Outside Looking In:
Another 10 drivers sit outside the Playoff position but still have plenty of time to race their way into the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series Playoffs.
Halmar Friesen Racing’s Stewart Friesen is 11th in Playoff standings, six points behind Nick Sanchez. Rackley W.A.R.’s Matt DiBenedetto sits 28 points off the final Playoff position.
Following Friesen and DiBenedetto is Jake Garcia (-36 points back from Playoff cutoff), Tyler Ankrum (-37), Chase Purdy (-40), Hailie Deegan (-48), Rajah Caruth (-69), Colby Howard (-88), Daniel Dye (-93), and Bret Holmes (-102).
NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series, Etc.
Ron Hornaday Jr., Mike Skinner, and Jeff Hammond named Tyson 250 dignitaries – Two of the most notable NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series drivers, Ron Hornaday Jr. and Mike Skinner, will join renowned Cup Series crew chief Jeff Hammond as dignitaries for the Tyson 250.
Ron Hornaday Jr., a NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee and four-time CRAFTSMAN Truck Series champion, participated in the inaugural Tyson 250 in 1995 and finished fifth. Last month, Hornaday Jr. was named as one of NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers. He will return to North Wilkesboro this weekend as the Grand Marshal.
Mike Skinner, the 1995 NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series champion, was the pole winner for the inaugural Tyson 250 that same year. The “Gun Slinger” will make his return to the 0.625-mile track to wave the green flag.
Jeff Hammond, the two-time NASCAR Cup Series title-winning crew chief, has deep roots that race back further than most. Hammond worked nearby for Junior Johnson’s race team through the mid-1980s, before following Darrell Waltrip to Hendrick Motorsports. The Truck Series race-winning team owner will return as the Honorary Chevrolet Silverado Pace Truck Driver.
Josh Williams to attempt CRAFTSMAN Truck Series debut – Josh Williams will look to make his return to the CRAFTSMAN Truck Series for the first time since 2014.
Williams has three NASCAR Cup Series starts alongside 164 Xfinity Series starts. His first and only race in the CRAFTSMAN Truck Series resulted in a DNF at Martinsville due to brakes.
Doubling up track time at North Wilkesboro – Several NASCAR Cup Series drivers will be moonlighting in the Tyson 250 NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series race at North Wilkesboro Speedway this Friday, in hopes to get some extra seat time prior to the NASCAR All-Star Race and All-Star Open on Sunday.
23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace will be back in the No. 1 TRICON Garage Toyota this weekend working alongside crew chief Seth Smith. Wallace made his Truck Series season debut last weekend at Darlington posting a top-10 finish (seventh).
Hendrick Motorsport’s drivers Kyle Larson and William Byron will also be making starts in the Truck Series this weekend. Larson will jump behind the wheel of the No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet with crew chief Kevin Manion and Byron will pilot the No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Chevrolet with crew chief Brian Pattie.
NASCAR Cup Series driver standings leader and Trackhouse Racing driver, Ross Chastain, will also compete in the Tyson 250 this weekend. Chastain will be in the No. 41 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet working with crew chief Mike Hillman. Chastain has already made five Truck Series starts this season posting two top fives.
Last but not least, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell will also be making a CRAFTSMAN Truck Series start this weekend at North Wilkesboro. Bell will join Hattori Racing Enterprises’ No. 61 Toyota team with crew chief Jon Leonard. This will be Bell’s debut with HRE, and his first Truck Series start since 2018.