Kyle Busch wins NASCAR Truck Race
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.
“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.
KYLE BUSCH, No. 51 Cessna Toyota Tundra, Kyle Busch Motorsports
Finishing Position: 1st
How was the race tonight overall and were you concerned with the late-race caution?
“We had two late cautions today – both races, but this one was a little more for real I think. Overall, just real proud of the effort by Christian Eckes and that Safelite Autoglass Tundra that he’s driving with Rudy Fugle (Eckes crew chief) and those guys. They’re getting their chemistry better and better and they challenged for a win tonight. Real proud of them, but wanted to go out on a high here with our Cessna Beechcraft Tundra. I want to thank Toyota, TRD, Incredible Bank, Rowdy Energy and all of our partners. We lost a member of Rowdy Manufacturing this week essentially, Robert Hamke, who built super late model cars across the country, but in North Carolina for year. He just passed away this week and that’s essentially what Rowdy Manufacturing is now. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”
What happened on pit road when you nearly turned into the wrong stall?
“I saw the 18 box and thought my number was 18 so I turned in.”
What was the battle like with Christian Eckes throughout the race?
“What can you say about Christian (Eckes), he’s getting better each week. Every time out, they get that chemistry going more and more with Rudy Fugle (Eckes crew chief) and those guys. Real proud of that Safelite Tundra running fast and being there to challenge us at the end. I wanted to make sure we went out on a win and take our Cessna Beechcraft Tundra to victory lane. I want to say thanks to Toyota, TRD and Incredible Bank. We lost a friend of ours this week, Robert Hamke, who was a super late model chassis builder for years out in North Carolina. That’s now what Rowdy Manufacturing is essentially. Real proud to be able to score this win with Rowdy Manufacturing and get Robert a win and see if we can’t go for another one tomorrow.”
How do you balance racing for the win with racing against a teammate?
“I try to be as respectful as I possibly can, but yet try to battle hard for the win. He (Christian Eckes) had a pretty good run on me there getting into turn three and almost cleared me. If he would have cleared me and slid me right there, it would have been over. Fortunately, I was able to just hang on his right rear. I try to hang on their right rear and just slow them down to make sure their progress doesn’t keep going and pass me. Once I feel like I’m even on momentum with them then I try to get away so I don’t suck them around. If I just stay on their door and stay too close, it’s obviously going to get him loose and either wreck him or wreck me or wreck both of us. You try to get away in those situations and not crash a guy.”
Does it bother you to have the win taken away from today’s Xfinity race?
“It’s bothersome, it pisses me off. We come out here and race and run hard and score a win and then it gets taken away from you and it sucks because it’s nothing we did. We even put another round in the right rear during the race in order to help the handling characteristic and the left rear was low. I don’t know. Again, there’s nothing I can do about it. You just kind of move on. I don’t know, I guess NASCAR wants me here longer.”
What were you referencing about making a mistake behind another truck?
“There’s little tiny mistakes all the time. Even at the end of the race there, the last two laps, I made a couple little mistakes, but it wasn’t big enough that anybody would really be able to tell. When I was running side-by-side with him (Christian Eckes), I was trying to get by him, but he was running a good line and he was doing exactly what he was supposed to do and running a really nice race. I just got really tight on the exit of turn four and hit those bumps and slid up and almost got into him. That would have been dumb to crash two of us right there. Fortunately, he hung onto it and I was able to hang onto it. The 21 (Zane Smith) passed me and then it wasn’t five laps later the 21 got super loose and about crashed, but held onto it. There was definitely some interesting moments and some tense moments there when us three were running up there like that.”
How satisfied are you with the performance of Christian Eckes and the 18 team?
“I’m real proud of the effort, I said that on TV after the race as well too. It’s really cool to see those guys run well, do well. Christian (Eckes) is a very quiet kid, but is a smart one and does a good job behind the wheel. Being able to see him run well at Pocono and then had a flat right rear, nothing that he really did that caused that and then spun out. Here tonight, ran strong, ran hard, was leading coming into the final stop and obviously with me and my track record of getting on and off pit road, we were able to get the lead from him. He did a great job on that final restart too and held on right there with us. Last week he was making some passes and making some moves at Kentucky before the rain came. I was hoping that race would go and finish to the end, but it just didn’t happen. Real proud that they’re getting their chemistry going and they’re getting a little bit better – him and Rudy (Fugle, Eckes crew chief). I think that will only get stronger. Then Raphael, been a little bit slower for him to get going, but he’s younger and he’s got less experience at some of these tracks. He doesn’t have as many ARCA starts as Eckes does. I was proud to see him up in the top-six here, I’m not sure where he ended up, but looking forward to him and (Mike) Hillman continuing to get stronger and that’s what it’s all about. They just have to build and get better. If there’s progress and you’re continuing to see some progress going upwards and your finishes going more towards the top, that’s where you need to be.”
What has made you so good at Texas Motor Speedway after the repave in the Truck Series?
“Our guys are just really good at what they do and they’ve done a great job at being able to put some fast Tundras underneath me. Real proud of the effort tonight with (Danny) Stockman (crew chief). Him and I, we almost went five-for-five this year. I think if we didn’t have the part failure at Charlotte and then some speeding issues at Atlanta, we probably could have done that. Still, it was nice to have another crew chief in the house. I haven’t worked with (Mike) Hillman, Jr. yet, but it’s nice to have another crew chief in the house that I feel like we can go out there and be competitive week in and week out. The 18 and the 51 ran together and fast so that was really cool for me. That was good and now me turning over the 51 to Chandler (Smith) and some other guys to cap off the rest of the year is going to be exciting for me to kind of see their growth and where they’re at. Obviously, knowing our program is good with this truck, bad news for them, they’ve got no excuses.”
Can you expand on the relationship with Robert Hamke and the connection with Rowdy Manufacturing?
“(Robert) Hamke was a super late model builder and he built cars for the old Southeast Tour when it was NASCAR and the Slim Jim All-Pro Series and all that sort of stuff. He built cars forever. He was always fast, always had great stuff and then when I started my super late model program in 2007, that’s who I started with. I had a Hamke car and we’ve all had Hamke cars over the years and worked on it and made it better and make it to where I wanted it and my standards of how I wanted things done. Then the last two years, I actually went off and built my own cars and didn’t have Hamke stuff anymore, but then another guy who I’m friends with, partners with, he came in and bought Robert out and paid for Robert’s building, paid for all his assets and bought all of Hamke Race Cars and Parts, essentially bought the business and then that guy wanted to build my cars at Hamke. Then we kind of joined forces and teamed up and I became partners in that deal. That’s kind of how it all transpired and where it’s at today. That location, the old Hamke building still build the late models and stuff right now and then the trucks and all that stuff is Rowdy Manufacturing, which is built out of the back of Kyle Busch Motorsports where we help out Shige Hattori Racing as well as Stewart Friesen and those guys.”
Is there an appeal option with the Xfinity ruling and do you understand how it happened?
“I don’t really understand what happened there. I don’t know why we would have been too low. Obviously, you start the cars in the green and then there’s a leeway, I don’t know if it’s three-eighths of an inch or what it is on the sticks before you fall into the red and we were a sixteenth into the red. It doesn’t make any sense to me. The only thing I can think of is when they’re allowed to unhook the shocks and they pull the front of the car up, they over-pulled the front of the car up, which dipped it on the left rear because the left rear spring is kind of soft and that lowered the left rear spoiler height where they check it all the way at the back of the car. That made it low. If the front was high – a half-inch high or whatever, they would have let it push the front down to minimum on the front, minimum legal, it probably would have picked the back up and the back would have been fine. Too many levers, too many things, too much bs that you have to go through. It would be nice to get rid of all the ride-height rules across all three series in my opinion.”
How difficult will the Truck Series doubleheader be next weekend and can KBM capitlize?
“It’s definitely an opportunity for us to capitalize on that. I feel like we’re pretty good where we’re at and you just have to take care of your stuff in the first race and not have any damage coming out of the first race to be good for the second race. I think we’re going to have Brandon Jones behind the wheel for both of the races in the 51 truck so he should do a really good job. He won his last start out at Pocono so hopefully him and (Danny) Stockman (crew chief) have a good idea of what they’re going to do and accomplish for Kansas next week. I’ll be running the Cup race on Thursday and peacing out for a halfway off week. I wish them the best of luck.”
CHRISTIAN ECKES, No. 18 Safelite Auto Glass Toyota Tundra, Kyle Busch Motorsports
Finishing Position: 2nd
What is it like battling with Kyle Busch and coming so close to the win?
“We had such a good truck and thought we were going to win the race there. I came off pit road there after green flag pit stops and he (Kyle Busch) was a straightaway ahead of us. Our pit crew didn’t do anything wrong, he just did a good job getting onto pit road I guess. Hell of a run by the Safelite Autoglass Toyota Tundra and couldn’t be happier than that. We’re making strides, we’re right there and we’re where we need to be. We just need to put a full race together. This was a good run and my best career finish so we’ll move onto Kansas, a place I’ve won at before and hopefully win there.”
What is it like racing against Kyle Busch for the victory?
“I wish Kyle (Busch) picked a different race to go to. It was such a great day for our 18 Safelite Tundra team. I thought our truck was good enough to beat him, I just have to improve some things. Really proud of my team and ready to go to Kansas.”
What can you learn from racing with Kyle Busch throughout the race?
“There’s just a few things. It’s pretty damn cool to race side-by-side with him (Kyle Busch) like that. I just have to take better care of situations and figure out how to pass him. He’s really hard to pass. I was running behind him and he was moving all around. We’ll get back to the lab and try to get better.”
How was the race overall?
“The race went pretty well overall. First stage we were a little off handling-wise, but we got better in the second stage and beat Kyle (Busch) or passed Kyle. Led a bunch of laps and hit my marks on pit road or thought I did. Kyle was a straightaway ahead of me by the time I got out of the corner. It is what it is. We had a really fast Safelite Toyota Tundra and that’s all we could do. We’ll move forward to Kansas, a place I’ve won at.”
Did you think you did everything you could on the final restart?
“I definitely gave it my best effort. Looking back on it, there’s probably a few things I could have done and maybe been a little more aggressive side-drafting. I tried to clear him, but he’s just so damn good at the aero game and I’m not yet. Got a little learning to do for Kansas, but overall proud of this team and how we all ran today.”
Do you have to race Kyle Busch differently knowing he’s your boss?
“Not necessarily. I feel like you can race hard. I was laying on his quarter and he was laying on my quarter. It’s fun.”
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