On Saturday, Christian Eckes assumed the points lead in the ARCA Menards Series with a runner-up finish to Chandler Smith. While the finish secured the Sioux Chief Short Track Challenge title for Eckes, the 19-year-old now sets his sights on finishing the year with the ARCA championship on October 18 at Kansas Speedway (KS).
Eckes joined Speed51’s “The Morning Bullring” Monday to discuss the championship battle. Despite missing a race earlier this season, Eckes enters the finale with a 20-point advantage over Michael Self going back to the 1.5-mile tri-oval, the kind of track where Self has excelled.
“It’s going to take a lot,” Eckes said about the title hunt. “We put ourselves in position at Lucas Oil. We didn’t capitalize on it as much as I’d like, but we do have some cushion going into Kansas. Michael is so good on the mile-and-a-half tracks.”
Eckes goes into the race with more confidence in the No. 15 team’s speedway program after a win earlier this season at Pocono Raceway (PA), but he acknowledges there are few similarities between Kansas and “The Tricky Triangle.”
“I feel like our mile-and-a-half program has stepped up. At Pocono, we were able to win, but that’s a different race track. I think we’re going to have a shot at it. Hopefully I don’t make any mistakes and we come home with the title.”
The season has come with several ups and downs, including a particularly turbulent start to the season. After a pair of top-five finishes at Daytona International Speedway (FL) and Five Flags Speedway (FL), a trip to the hospital cost Eckes the opportunity to compete in the series’ third race at Salem Speedway (IN). That, followed by a 26th-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway (AL), left Eckes with a considerable hole to escape.
Nonetheless, Eckes has caught fire in the second half of the season, riding a wave of momentum to erase the points deficit and lead the standings going into the finale.
“This year as a whole has been super difficult. We’ve been on a streak here, this was our sixth straight top-five finish. We’ve definitely got our stuff together. We’re making a great run at it and have made up a ton of points. I wish I could go back and fix the mistakes from the first half of the year, but we’ve got what we’ve got now and I’ve got to capitalize at Kansas.”
A unique aspect of Eckes’ championship battle has been that his primary competition is also his teammate, Michael Self. The Venturini Motorsports duo has battled it out all season long, and it will likely come down to those two drivers when Kansas is over.
It has made for a unique partnership between the two drivers, both working together to improve their Venturini Motorsports rides while also chasing their individual goals.
“I feel like Michael and I have two different relationships, one off the track and one on the race track. We’ve done a good job with that. We had one run-in at Elko and we put that in the past. Either way, Venturini Motorsports is going to win. Hopefully, it will be the 15 team.”
Eckes hopes the race and title won’t be decided by a late-race skirmish between himself and his teammate. While Eckes wouldn’t dump Self for a championship, he admitted he would be willing to get physical if that’s what was needed to win the crown.
“I wouldn’t spin him out or anything, but if I had to use him up, I probably would. My team has gone through so much this year. With all of that on the line, you’ve got to go for it and take it.”
The 2016 Snowball Derby winner has accomplished plenty in his career. However, the ARCA championship would be near the top of the list for Eckes if he is able to secure the title.
“It’d be up there, for sure. The year we’ve gone through, the fact that we’ve come back and put ourselves in position, it would be really huge. It would be right up there, if not the top of the list.”
Fans who missed Eckes’ interview can click here to view an on-demand replay of “The Morning Bullring.” Next week, the short track racing talk show will air at 7 a.m. ET on Tuesday morning after an exciting weekend featuring several marquee short track events.
-Story by: Zach Evans, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @ztevans
-Photo credit: Speed51.com photo