Christian Eckes seized his chance on the last lap. While Corey Heim and Zane Smith battled two-wide for the lead in the final restart with two laps to go, Eckes built up momentum from third on the backstretch and took it three wide.
Eckes secured his lead to the line to win the Kansas Lottery 200. It wasn’t entirely clean as he came up in front of Zane Smith, pushing him wide and getting him loose, but it was certainly convincing.
“That was wild, I didn’t know if I was going to win it or not,” Eckes admitted after getting out of his truck. “We had, like, a sixth-place truck all day, but with that caution coming out I knew we could have a shot at it and here we are.”
The win is his third this year and first in the Playoffs after last winning the spring race at Darlington. Despite that, Eckes has had a particularly strong showing in the first round of the Playoffs, enough to put him second in the Playoff standings at the end of the round.
“We haven’t won in a really long time, so I want to kind of set the tone,” he said. “And what a hell of a way to do a Round of 10: second, third, and first. Can’t beat that, proud of these guys.”
For Zane Smith, despite getting pushed out of position on the final restart, leaving him forced to save a sideways truck and keep it out of the wall to finish fifth, it was still an enjoyable race with an exhilarating final restart.
“It was a crazy one,” Smith said. “I felt like we were in a really good position. I thought the No. 19 was coming with the push there, and he did as I would have. Had the run – three-wide, you get such a massive run when you’re behind two trucks like that. He just got me in a good spot where he was able to run up the track… and just nowhere [to go].” ”
Fortunately, I didn’t wreck. I shot at it, and I thought we were going to get it. But still, all-in-all, a good day. I felt like our truck was pretty strong. Just not quite fast enough,” he acknowledged.
“To be honest, I forgot about points there. I was just going for the win,” he admitted. “We’ll try to carry some of this momentum into this next round.”
The race also determined the Playoff field as the postseason roster was whittled from ten to eight drivers heading into the next round.
Ben Rhodes was able to transfer into the Round of 8 despite entering Kansas three points below the cutline, but it certainly wasn’t easy.
Midway through the race, he had a potential issue that caused him to hit the wall, which he suspected was a result of a tire going down. That put his team on edge, but he was able to keep his truck on track until the edge of his pit window to get vital positions and points as Playoff rival Matt Crafton fell through the field with his own issues.
The tire just compounded an incredibly loose truck all night for Rhodes that made his race difficult.
“We were edgy all night ever since we unloaded,” he said. “We kind of were predicting that it was going to come to us in the race and it kind of went the opposite way. I usually judge a scale of zero to five for the truck, and we were like a ‘four’ loose at one point.”
“I’ve got to do some research and talk to the guys if we ended up having a tire going down that caused me to hit the wall or if it was just a mistake on myself,” Rhodes added.
“Mixed emotions tonight: the expectation is to make it to the next round, so just meeting the expectation isn’t a cause for celebration. So we’re happy to advance, but at the same time, we’ve got to smooth out some rough edges and make sure that we bring less mistakes and faster trucks,” he concluded.
Rhodes will be joined by his Thorsport teammate Ty Majeski in the next round along with Eckes. Grant Enfinger is in by virtue of his win at the Milwaukee Mile and a win at Indianapolis Raceway Park in the opening round of the Playoffs gave Ty Majeski the berth. Also competing in the Round of 8 are Corey Heim, Carson Hocevar, Zane Smith, and Nick Sanchez.
Matt DiBenedetto ended up the first driver eliminated, five points below the cutline. He finished third at Kansas in a strong drive, but it wasn’t enough to make up for his nineteen-point deficit entering the race, and he would’ve needed a win to advance at the end.
He didn’t think there was any way he could’ve gotten that win, though.
“No, I don’t think so, honestly,” DiBenedetto admitted. “This team fought so hard, worked their tails off to give me a good-looking truck and a good-handling truck all night. We made the most of it for sure.”
“I hate that we missed it, man,” he concluded. “It just stinks that we had an issue at Milwaukee and to miss out on it, we could be in the next round. This team, they should hold their heads high for sure.”
It’s DiBenedetto’s first Playoff appearance in his second year of trying with his Rackley WAR team. He recently announced, though, that he won’t be returning to the team next season.
Matt Crafton had a horrible day all around at Kansas. An incident in practice forced him into a backup truck and made him unable to qualify. Then, in the race, he scraped the wall around lap 70 of 134 which destroyed the pace of his truck and forced him down pit road for repairs. It completely negated his small nine-point advantage coming in and put him below the cutline.
Crafton ended the race eleven points below the cutline, and unhappy about the circumstances, blaming NASCAR for the debris that got him into the wall in practice.
“I think they did a great job,” he said of his team. “It all comes down to lap two in practice when the 9 truck wrecked and they did a pathetic job cleaning it up and we ran through the debris when we went back out there. They weren’t in a rush for practice, but it is what it is. The cards fell. They folded really crappy for us.”
“We had some speed,” Crafton added of his race. “When it got tight off of two it just caught me off guard, it hadn’t done that all night. But got to thank these guys, they’ve worked their butts off today, just from practice, wrecking during practice, and wrecking during the race. It wasn’t meant to be, we’ll go on and do it again next year.”
Two late cautions shook up the running order and created the conditions for the restart that gave Eckes the position.
The caution came out with fifteen to go for Mason Maggio hitting the wall hard in a shower of sparks.
The caution came out with seven to go when Rajah Caruth and Tanner Gray tangled up after Jesse Love checked up. Love, the ARCA series’ dominant driver, made only his second-after Truck Series start after finishing ninth in his debut at Gateway. Love ended up crossing the line in ninth after the final restart but a penalty for changing lanes during the restart means his finishing position is officially 13th.
The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Playoffs return for the first race of the Round of 8 at Bristol on Thursday, September 14th.
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