Story By: CHARLES KRALL / ARCA – LONG POND, PA – Christian Eckes (No. 15 JBL Audio Toyota) made a statement that he will be a threat for the ARCA Menards Series championship with a dominant victory in Friday’s FORTS USA 150 at Pocono Raceway.
Eckes took control on lap 35 when the dominant driver in the early stages of the race, General Tire Pole Award winner Todd Gilliland (No. 18 Frontline Enterprises Toyota), was penalized for a blend line violation after his only pit stop of the afternoon.
Eckes led the final 26 laps of the caution free race to score his second win of the season and fifth overall.
Once Eckes was alerted by his crew that he would be the leader after Gilliland’s penalty, he kept his head in the game to minimize mistakes.
“Once they told me what happened to the 18 it was all about keeping our heads down and not making any mistakes,” Eckes said. “We knew there was a long way to go and we needed to be perfect to close it out.”
Gilliland, who led the first 31 laps in a substitute role for Joe Gibbs Racing while the team’s regular driver Riley Herbst is racing in the NASCAR XFINITY Series at Iowa Speedway, was disappointed with his second-place run.
“The blend line rule is different in Trucks and ARCA,” he said. “In the truck, we can go above the line with the right side tires as long as we keep the left side tires below it. In ARCA they want you to keep all four tires below it until your between turns one and two. It wouldn’t have been a problem for me at all to keep them below the line. I should have know it but I didn’t.”
With his second win of the season, Eckes closes the gap on his Venturini Motorsports teammate and championship leader Michael Self (No. 25 Sinclair Lubricants Toyota), who finished third. Eckes knows with just five races remaining every point matters.
“We need to be perfect from here on out,” Eckes said. “Without missing the race at Salem, we’d be 150 points ahead. Without the last lap at Elko we’d be within 50 points or so. We were perfect here today and we need to be perfect every week from here on out. I’ve won at three of the five tracks and my crew chief Kevin Reed has won at all five of them so I am confident we can make a run at it.”
Self finished third in what was an uneventful race for the points leader.
“We had a right rear tire go down and we had to pit early,” Self said. “Once the field cycled through and we didn’t get a caution it evened out for us. We weren’t close to second place and we were way ahead of fourth so we were just trying to make sure we didn’t do anything to give it away at the end.”
There were four lead changes among five drivers. Gilliland lead the first 31 laps from the pole, and Chandler Smith (No. 20 Craftsman/828 Logistics Toyota), Austin Wayne Self (No. 32 Win Tron Racing Chevrolet), and Bret Holmes (No. 23 Holmes II Excavation Chevrolet) each led a lap while the field cycled through green flag pit stops. Eckes took the lead at lap 35 and led the rest of the way to the finish.
Without a caution to slow the pace, Eckes averaged Pocono Raceway ARCA Menards Series record 164.534 miles per hour. Eckes’ margin of victory was 13.027 seconds.
Self continues to lead the series championship standings with an unofficial 90-point advantage over Eckes who has now moved into second. Holmes is now third, 110 points back and ninth-place finisher Travis Braden (No. 27 MatrixCare/Consonus Health Care/Liberty Village Ford) is fourth 150 points behind.
The next race for the ARCA Menards Series is the Allen Crowe Memorial 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds on Saturday, August 18. Practice on the one-mile dirt oval will begin at 10 am ET/9 am CT, General Tire Pole Qualifying is set for 12 n ET/11 am CT, and the 100-mile feature event will go green at 2:30 pm ET/1:30 pm CT.