Another driver added his name to the list of first-time winner in the ARCA Racing Series Presented by Menards on Sunday. This time, it was Christian Eckes’ turn as he held off Chandler Smith over the final 20 laps to pick up his first career ARCA victory in the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 at Salem Speedway (IN).
The win came in the Middletown, N.Y. driver’s sixteenth series start. It was also his first win behind the wheel of a race car since the 2016 Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway (FL).
“It’s unbelievable. It just means a lot to be able to be back to victory lane,” Eckes told Speed51.com. “It’s been such a long time. This is the best win of my career. I’ve won the Snowball Derby and I’ve won the Myrtle Beach 400 but this tops them all by ten. Just to be able to win at this stage, especially with the drought I was in; I’m finally out of it! It’s just unbelievable. I’m at a loss for words, and I just can’t thank all my sponsors, Toyota Racing, Venturini Motorsports, my parents, just everyone that supports me enough, it’s just a good day to be here.”
Chandler Smith had the fastest car throughout the race, but a pit stop with 50 laps to go put Eckes on the front row for the final restart, while Smith restarted fourth. Smith quickly moved to second and battled with Eckes throughout the final 20 laps. The two Venturini Motorsports teammates put on a show, which ended with Eckes in victory lane and Smith making heavy contact with the turn two wall on the final lap.
“It was just a really good battle,” Eckes commented. “He (Smith) was just pushing me as hard as I could go. He’s better than me here honestly, it was hard to hold him off. He did a great job all day staying in contention and leading laps. He did a really great job. We’re ready for Toledo now. We want to get this race past us. We won, it’s fantastic, the losing streak’s over. We can go into Toledo with our heads high.”
While Eckes and Smith battled for the win, Nashville winner Zane Smith held third place comfortably, and moved into second after Smith hit the wall on the last lap.
“We rode around a lot of today,” Smith said. “We just needed to be better to keep up with the 15 (Eckes). It’s another really good day. After coming off a win, we got a second. It’s too early to be worrying about points in my opinion, but it’s always in the back of your head, but it was a good day for us.”
Sunday’s race was a relatively clean race, with the biggest incident occurring on Lap 85 when Travis Braden, Natalie Decker and Thad Moffit got together in turn three. All three drivers were able to finish the event.
MDM Motorsports driver Sheldon Creed finished third, Josh Berry finished fourth in his ARCA debut and Chase Purdy rounded out the top five. Chandler Smith finished 10th after last-lap contact with the wall.
It’s a quick turnaround for the ARCA Racing Series Presented by Menards, as they head to the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama for the General Tire 200 on Friday, April 27.
-By Koty Geyer, Speed51.com State Editor (IN & MI)
-Photo credit: Speed51.com