The saying goes that April showers bring May flowers. A trying April in the ARCA Menards Series and rain throughout the weekend at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville (TN) couldn’t keep Christian Eckes driver from starting May in victory lane.
Eckes started alongside pole-sitter Chandler Smith to begin the 200-lap event, postponed from Saturday due to rain. He would ride in second behind his Venturini Motorsports teammate through the early stages of the race before taking control of the lead on lap 80 after pit stops and leading the rest of the way for his first series victory of 2019.
“It was a pretty solid race for us, to be honest, I knew we had a pretty fast car,” Eckes told Speed51. “Me and Chandler were pretty even there at the end, but he seemed to kind of go the opposite way of where we were. It seemed like we got better and he got worse. It’s unfortunate for that, but he gave me a really good run in the start.
“We were able to just get a lead there and maintain,” Eckes added. We didn’t have the speed that we really wanted, but we were close. We were definitely closer than we were at Pensacola, which is similar package-wise. Lots to look forward to for the next short track race, should be a fun time.”
The last month for Eckes in the ARCA Menards Series has been nothing short of dismal. After missing the Salem Speedway (IN) race due to food poisoning and an early exit in the last race at Talladega Superspeedway (AL), Eckes was relieved to make it back to victory lane.
“It’s huge, I might get a little emotional from it here,” confessed Eckes. “It’s been a tough two or three weeks in my racing career. To come here and pick up the win, the first one of the year and the first one at Nashville for Venturini Motorsports. It’s been an awesome year and I’m really looking forward to the next fifteen races.
“We had a great car all day and I can’t thank Kevin (Reed) and the guys enough,” he continued. “We weren’t a hundred percent happy after the practice, we still needed to be a little bit better if we were going to go to victory lane.”
Ty Gibbs came home in the runner-up spot for the second time in three ARCA starts after finishing second in his ARCA debut at Five Flags Speedway. The sixteen-year-old was satisfied with a good run, but is looking to break through for a win in the ARCA Menards Series.
“We had a really good car; we just lacked drive off a little bit and that kind of screwed us at the end and that’s what probably cost us the race,” Gibbs said. “We were catching him a little bit then we got caught up in the lapped cars there and I just started falling off pretty good. My guys did a really good job today, we had good pit stops. We’ll go get them next race.
“Seconds are not good. I’ve got three of them this year, we’ve got to change those to wins.”
Chandler Smith was the other driver to lead during the green, having led the majority of the first 80 laps after starting on the pole for the second year in a row. After losing the lead on pit road, he was unable to regain the spot, ultimately finishing third in the race.
“I felt like we were definitely the best car on the racetrack,” said Smith. “We were able to maintain and ride really good. The No. 15 would start pulling up to us and we were able to drive away effortlessly. Other than that, we kind of just fell off after we came and got tires, the right front just got completely numb on us. It happened in the test as well, but we thought it was something else, but obviously it wasn’t. Other than that, my Venturini Craftsman guys did a heck of a job this weekend.”
Having missed a race already this year, Eckes is not focusing on points for much of the season. He is looking to take home as many checkered flags as possible throughout the remaining three-quarters of the ARCA Menards Series Season.
“It’s not so much points at this point, we’re just chasing wins,” Eckes said. “I think if we do that, then it all will take care of itself. We’re really just chasing wins at this point, and hopefully we can pick up a couple more here.”
Carson Hocevar and Bret Holmes rounded out the top five.
The next race for the ARCA Menards Series will be at Toledo Speedway in Ohio for the Sioux Chief PowerPEX 200 on Sunday, May 19th. The race will once again air live on MAVTV.
-Story by: Koty Geyer, Speed51.com State Editor (IN & MI) – Twitter: @kgeyer3
-Photo credit: Speed51.com photo