Kyle Busch held off 19-year old rookie Christian Eckes by .777-seconds to earn the victory in the Vankor 350 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday night.
It was master and protégé showing the way with Eckes still scoring a career-best second-place finish in the No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota. The two - running first and second - held a 12-second advantage on the field during much of the final stage of the race.
They exchanged the lead for a lap following a restart with 10 laps remaining, but ultimately Busch was able to get around his young driver with eight laps left and hold off the field to earn his 59th series win – third of 2020. It was nearly a perfect competitive day as Busch was scored the winner initially in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race earlier Saturday at Texas.
But his car was disqualified following technical inspection.
The two drivers – Busch (72 laps) and Eckes (52) combined to lead 124 of the race’s 167 laps.
Reigning series champion Matt Crafton finished third followed by Stewart Friesen, who earned his best finish of the season. Another former series champion Brett Moffitt finished fifth – his second top five of the year.
Tyler Ankrum, Justin Haley, Grant Enfinger, Ben Rhodes and Ross Chastain rounded out the top 10. Both Haley and Chastain also finished top-10 in the Xfinity Series race earlier in the day.
Busch joked on the FS1 telecast that he shouldn’t celebrate until after his No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota truck finished inspection but he was clearly pleased to earn the win and to see his own young driver challenge him so well.
“What can you say about Christian [Eckes], he’s getting better each and every week, every time out getting that chemistry more and more with [his crew chief] Rudy Fugle and those guys," Busch said. “So real proud.
“But wanted to make sure we went out on a win."
Eckes was simultaneously happy and frustrated to come so close to his first career win.
“We battled hard and it was really fun to go toe-to-toe with the best and just got to get a little better to beat him," Eckes said. “I thought our truck was good enough to beat him I’ve just got to improve a few things. I’m really proud of my team."
With 40 to go, Eckes held a .631-second advantage on Busch and the two were more than nine seconds ahead of the rest of the field before a series of green flag pit stops.
Busch nearly steered into the wrong pit box initially on his green flag stop – seeing the No. 18 sign, which is Busch’s NASCAR Cup Series number – before catching himself and motoring on to the right box. His advantage on track, however, was enough to put him back out front by three seconds as the pit stop sequence completed with 32 laps remaining.
A caution came out with 15 laps remaining after contact with Todd Gilliland and Ben Rhodes while racing hard inside the top 10. Gilliland’s No. 38 Ford suffered the worst damage and retired. Rhodes team made quick repairs in the pits and he returned to finish ninth.
It was an unusually tough day for several of the Texas track’s best, including former series champion Johnny Sauter, whose five previous wins in Fort Worth are most among active drivers. His No. 13 Ford had to retire only 62 laps into the race, hurting his place in the points standings, dropping him from 10th to 12th with only four races remaining before the Playoffs begin. The top 10 drivers in the driver standings vie for the title.
The NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series championship leader Austin Hill finished outside the top-10 for the first time this season. The driver of the No. 16 Hattori Racing Enterprises Toyota made a pair of extended pit stops before eventually retiring on Lap 107, in 30th place.
The DNF delivered a hit in Hill’s championship points lead, however. The young Georgia-native’s championship advantage dropped from 46 points ahead of Sheldon Creed before the race to only 22 points over Rhodes after the Texas checkered flag.
NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series Race - 22nd Annual Vankor 350
Texas Motor Speedway
Fort Worth, Texas
Saturday, July 18, 2020
1. (4) Kyle Busch(i), Toyota, 167.
2. (7) Christian Eckes #, Toyota, 167.
3. (15) Matt Crafton, Ford, 167.
4. (18) Stewart Friesen, Toyota, 167.
5. (8) Brett Moffitt, Chevrolet, 167.
6. (9) Tyler Ankrum, Chevrolet, 167.
7. (13) Justin Haley(i), Chevrolet, 167.
8. (2) Grant Enfinger, Ford, 167.
9. (10) Ben Rhodes, Ford, 167.
10. (24) Ross Chastain(i), Chevrolet, 166.
11. (17) Derek Kraus #, Toyota, 166.
12. (16) Raphael Lessard #, Toyota, 166.
13. (14) Ryan Truex, Chevrolet, 166.
14. (26) Austin Wayne Self, Chevrolet, 165.
15. (11) Ty Majeski #, Chevrolet, 165.
16. (1) Sheldon Creed, Chevrolet, 164.
17. (30) Cory Roper, Ford, 164.
18. (22) Timmy Hill, Chevrolet, 164.
19. (6) Zane Smith #, Chevrolet, 164.
20. (33) Clay Greenfield, Toyota, 163.
21. (19) Spencer Davis #, Toyota, 162.
22. (32) Codie Rohrbaugh, Chevrolet, 161.
23. (23) Angela Ruch, Toyota, 160.
24. (27) Spencer Boyd, Chevrolet, 156.
25. (25) Akinori Ogata, Toyota, 155.
26. (34) Tim Viens, Chevrolet, 154.
27. (5) Todd Gilliland, Ford, Accident, 152.
28. (28) Jordan Anderson, Chevrolet, 152.
29. (35) Jennifer Jo Cobb, Chevrolet, Electrical, 121.
30. (3) Austin Hill, Toyota, Engine, 107.
31. (29) Brennan Poole(i), Toyota, Accident, 91.
32. (31) Tate Fogleman #, Chevrolet, Accident, 79.
33. (21) Johnny Sauter, Ford, Engine, 62.
34. (36) Norm Benning, Chevrolet, Handling, 46.
35. (12) Natalie Decker, Chevrolet, Engine, 45.
36. (20) Tanner Gray #, Ford, Transmission, 43.
Average Speed of Race Winner: 132.209 mph.
Time of Race: 1 Hrs, 53 Mins, 41 Secs.
Margin of Victory: 0.777 Seconds.
Caution Flags: 5 for 26 laps.
Lead Changes: 15 among 7 drivers.
Lap Leaders: S. Creed 1-7;K. Busch(i) 8-12;Z. Smith # 13-34;K. Busch(i) 35-46;C. Eckes # 47;K. Busch(i) 48-70;C. Eckes # 71-75;B. Moffitt 76-77;B. Rhodes 78;B. Moffitt 79-83;Z. Smith # 84-87;C. Eckes # 88-132;M. Crafton 133-134;K. Busch(i) 135-158;C. Eckes # 159;K. Busch(i) 160-167.
Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): Kyle Busch(i) 5 times for 72 laps; Christian Eckes # 4 times for 52 laps; Zane Smith # 2 times for 26 laps; Brett Moffitt 2 times for 7 laps; Sheldon Creed 1 time for 7 laps; Matt Crafton 1 time for 2 laps; Ben Rhodes 1 time for 1 lap.
Stage #1 Top Ten: 51,21,26,99,23,18,38,88,24,98
Stage #2 Top Ten: 23,88,26,99,21,18,19,40,42,98