Christian Eckes (No. 15 JBL Audio/Illinois Truck & Equipment Toyota) scored his third ARCA Menards Series victory of the season with a dominant performance in the Southern Illinois 100 on the Magic Mile at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.
Eckes started outside General Tire Pole Award winner Ken Schrader (No. 52 Federated Auto Parts Toyota), and slipped past third-place starter Kelly Kovski (No. 16 Schluckebier Farms/RaceTires.com Chevrolet) on lap 10 to take the lead and led the rest of the way to earn his second career ARCA Menards Series win on dirt. He also won at Springfield in 2018.
"I don't know if you can call me a dirt track expert just yet," Eckes laughed in victory lane. "I tried to drive Springfield and DuQuoin like dirt tracks last year and burned everything off the car I could. We tried some new things here tonight and I drove the track more like a pavement track and it really paid off."
Eckes finished in 0.443 seconds in front of his Venturini Motorsports teammate, and defending race winner, Logan Seavey (No. 20 Craftsman Toyota). Seavey started tenth and methodically worked his way towards the front of the field. He utilized lap traffic to work past his other Venturini Motorsports teammate Michael Self (No. 25 Sinclair Lubricants Toyota) to take over second with 28 laps to go. From there Seavey was able to stay within sight of Eckes but he couldn't close in enough to seriously challenge.
"It stinks coming back here and finishing second," Seavey said. "We worked our way to the front and caught a good break in traffic to get past Michael but we didn't quite have enough to close in on Christian."
Corey Heim (No. 22 Speedway Children's Charities Ford) finished third. He rebounded from a disappointing seventh-place result at Springfield after restarting second with two laps to go.
"It's a little bittersweet," Heim said. "We should have finished no lower than third at Springfield but ended up seventh. We had a great night here today but I would have liked to have started a little closer to the front. If we qualified a little better we wouldn't have had to have worked so hard to get to the front and might have had a shot at running Christian down for the win."
Self finished fourth and gave up 35 points to Eckes in the hunt for the ARCA Menards Series championship.
"The lapped cars were tough tonight," Self said. "I get you want to race hard and stay on the lead lap but you also need to respect the leaders of the race. They didn't give a lot of room out there for sure. We lost a position late in the race to lapped car. Maybe I could have been a little more aggressive, I don't know."
Illinoisan Kelly Kovski (No. 16 Schluckebier Farms/RaceTires.com Chevrolet) finished fifth.
"We're happy with a top five but we want to come out here and win," Kovski said. "I only get a couple of chances a year to do this. It means a lot to me to come out and run well but I want to win for my guys and Grant (Enfinger). I know our days of having Grant come and crew chief for us are probably numbered so we want to take advantage of it while we can."
The race was only slowed twice by cautions, each time for debris. That allowed Eckes to set a record speed on his way to the victory, 105.798 miles per hour. With the victory, Eckes unofficially closes to within 70 points of series championship leader Self in the race for the ARCA Menards Series championship with three races remaining.
The ARCA Menards Series returns to action on Saturday September 14 in the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers Fall Classic 200 at Salem Speedway. Practice is set for 2:30 pm ET with General Tire Pole Qualifying to follow at 4 pm ET. The 200-lap main event will close the night at 7:15 pm ET. The race will be televised live flag-to-flag on MAVTV. ARCA for Me members can follow live timing & scoring, live chat, and live track updates at ARCARacing.com; new users can register for free with a valid email address at ARCARacing.com/login. For ticket information, please visit SalemSpeedway.com.
-ARCA Press Release
-Photo credit: Venturini Motorsports