By AMANDA VINCENT
Christian Eckes claimed his second-career NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series win in his 71st start, Saturday’s FR8 208 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“There’s a lot of thoughts, for sure. It was a tough offseason,” Eckes said. “I’m driving as hard as I ever have. I have a lot to prove to the people who know who they are. Just really happy. Thanks to this team; they work so damn hard, and this is what makes it all worth it. I’m pumped. This is going to be a really good year.”
VIDEO: Christian Eckes talks about his win at Atlanta
Eckes was second to Nick Sanchez for an overtime restart that extended the race from a 135-lap scheduled distance to 137 laps after a lap-131 crash for Carson Hocevar. That caution, the 10th of the race set a record for most yellow flags in a Truck Series race at Atlanta.
Eckes took the white flag as the race leader before an 11th caution for a multi-truck crash ended the race just ahead of the checkered flag.
Sanchez finished second, his first-career top-20 finish in his third-career Truck Series race, after recovering from a spin that resulted from contact from Corey Heim on lap 84.
John Hunter Nemechek finished third after leading a race-high 53 laps.
Nemechek dominated the second half of the race but was challenged by Jack Wood with about 25 laps remaining. Wood took the lead from Nemechek on lap 113, but a lap later, Wood spun from the lead as a result of contact from Nemechek.
“Just pushing. Sorry to Brian Pattie and all the guys on the 51 (Wood) truck at KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports),” Nemechek said. “Everybody was pushing each other on corner exit. I apologized to him, but I know I was sideways off the corner a few times. The 99 (Ben Rhodes) about wrecked underneath me. Guys are out here to gain experience, and that’s part of the experience, I guess. Sorry to those guys. It wasn’t meant to happen. I was trying to push him away from everybody else so that we could get clear and just race, but that’s part of speedway racing and that’s what they turned Atlanta into.”
Grant Enfinger also spun to avoid the incident.
Sanchez and Ben Rhodes got out in front of Nemechek for the top-two positions on the lap-121 restart.
Eckes also won the first 30-lap stage after holding off pole sitter Zane Smith on a one-lap green-flag sprint to the end of the stage. The short run to stage-end was the result of the first caution of the race on lap 24 when Layne Riggs spun into the wall after contact from Tanner Gray.
Eckes dominated the opening stage after starting the race fourth and taking the lead on lap one.
Matt Crafton won stage two at lap 60 after dominating the second 30-lap stage, mostly with his ThorSport Racing teammates Ty Majeski and Rhodes in second and third.
After pitting during the first caution, Crafton and his teammates were among the drivers who stayed out after the opening stage to restart up front.
After his stage win, Crafton was back to eighth but the first with four new tires when varying pit strategies shuffled the running order just before the halfway point of the race.
Nemechek restarted with the lead after taking only two tires.
Bayley Currey and Rhodes rounded out the top-five of the race finishing order. Matt DiBenedetto finished sixth, Chase Purdy seventh, Timmy Hill eighth, Crafton ninth and Wood 10th.