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In a Nutshell: Kyle Busch scored his third win in five Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series starts this season. The owner/driver out-dueled rookie Christian Eckes on a late-race restart to snag the victory in his final 2020 start in the series. Matt Crafton, Stewart Friesen and Brett Moffitt rounded out the top five.
Adding another 🤠 to his collection!
— Texas Motor Speedway (@TXMotorSpeedway) July 19, 2020
ThorSport’s Challenging Night
When you take a look at the results for Saturday night’s race from Texas, you’ll find three ThorSport Racing trucks in the top 10. But that doesn’t even begin to tell the story of the race that was for the longest-tenured Truck Series organization.
The only ThorSport driver to finish outside the top 10 was Johnny Sauter who suffered a blown motor after running just 62 laps. The 33rd-place finish was his second DNF in eight races and dropped him from eighth to 12th in the championship standings.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum, Matt Crafton managed to post his first back-to-back top fives this season with a third-place result at Texas. But it wasn’t without its challenges as battery issues forced the driver of the No. 88 down pit road for two separate battery changes at the end of stages one and two. His second consecutive third-place finish was enough to boost him from 12th to 10th in the standings. It’s the first time Crafton has been on the positive side of the playoff cut line this season.
If that wasn’t enough, look no farther than Grant Enfinger, who had issues early in the race. He made multiple trips down pit road under the stage caution but still managed to find his way to an eighth-place finish. It’s the first time this season the driver of the No. 98 Ford has finished inside the top 10 without also winning the race.
We just missed it a little tonight, but our @ThorSportRacing crew made it better on every stop. Salvaged a p8 tonight, and have some good info for when we run this truck again. Can’t wait for @kansasspeedway double! @FarmPaint @ChampionPowerEQ @CurbRecords @BlueSpringH2O
— Grant Enfinger (@GrantEnfinger) July 19, 2020
With all of that said, Ben Rhodes was the only ThorSport driver who made it out of Texas mostly unscathed. A late-race tangle with Todd Gilliland sent the latter spinning into the wall and brought out the yellow with just 14 laps remaining. But Rhodes’ truck was relatively untouched and he ended the night in ninth. It was his third straight top-10 finish and his sixth overall in eight races.
It’s clear ThorSport Racing has the mile-and-a-half tracks figured out. And while the organization, except Enfinger, has been locked out of victory lane, it’s only a matter of time before at least of its drivers find a way to win.
Christian Eckes Scores Career-Best Finish
Prior to joining Kyle Busch Motorsports full-time this season to run for Rookie of the Year honors, Christian Eckes had just a dozen Truck Series starts spread out across the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Seven of those races ended in top-10 finishes and he led a combined 128 laps.
With that said, it’s clear to see why Eckes’ rookie season has been approached with optimism and high expectations, something he’s starting to really live up to in recent weeks. When the checkered flag flew over Texas, Eckes emerged with 52 laps led (107 on the season) and an almost win in a race where he battled with – and beat – team owner Kyle Busch for the lead in the latter half.
In fact, even Busch was complimentary of Eckes’ performance this season.
“What can you say about Christian (Eckes), he’s getting better each week,” Busch said after the race. “Every time out, they get that chemistry going more and more with Rudy Fugle (Eckes crew chief) and those guys. Real proud of that Safelite Tundra running fast and being there to challenge us at the end.”
Despite the career-best finish, Eckes wasted little time analyzing what he could have done differently to beat Busch.
“I definitely gave it my best effort,” Eckes explained. “Looking back on it, there’s probably a few things I could have done and maybe been a little more aggressive side-drafting. I tried to clear him, but he’s just so damn good at the aero game and I’m not yet.”
The bottom line is that this rookie is showing why he was put into a KBM truck full-time.
Prior to Saturday’s race, NASCAR announced the Triple Truck Challenge will return soon. Previously postponed due to COVID-19, this year’s challenge was originally scheduled at Richmond International Raceway, Dover International Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
The rescheduled dates, which will exclude all Xfinity and Cup series drivers, are the Daytona International Speedway road course (Aug. 16), Dover International Speedway (Aug. 21) and World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway (Aug. 30).
The winner of each of those races will take home a $50,000 bonus, and if anyone wins two of those three races, and an additional $50,000 will be added. And if anyone needed more incentive to fight their way to victory lane, any driver who manages to win all three races in the Triple Truck Challenge will receive an additional $300,000 bonus, bringing the grand total for perfection in that trio of races to a cool half a million.
Last year, Greg Biffle (Texas), Brett Moffitt (Iowa) and Ross Chastain (Gateway) won the Triple Truck Challenge.
Austin Hill’s streak of top-10 finishes came to an end at Texas Motor Speedway Saturday night. After struggling with handling and overall performance throughout the race, Hill was forced to retire on lap 107 with a blown motor and a disappointing 30th-place finish.
For the first time since 2018, Justin Haley quietly made his return to the Truck Series. Behind the wheel of a fifth truck for GMS Racing, the Xfinity Series regular finished ninth in stage one and rebounded to a seventh-place finish by the time the checkered flag flew.
2020 Rookie of the Year Candidates
Tate Fogleman – No. 02 Young’s Motorsports Chevrolet
Raphael Lessard – No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Spencer Davis – No. 11 Spencer Davis Motorsports Toyota
Zane Smith – No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet
Tanner Gray – No. 15 DGR-Crosley Ford
Christian Eckes – No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota
Derek Kraus – No. 19 McAnally-Hilgemann Racing Toyota
Ty Majeski – No. 45 Niece Motorsports Chevrolet
Number of Rookies in the Race: 8
Number of Rookies finishing in the Top 10: 1; Christian Eckes, finished second
Rookie of the Race: Eckes
Points Update: Austin Hill still sits atop the championship standings despite a DNF. His margin shrank to a mere 12 points over Ben Rhodes. Sheldon Creed sits third, followed by Christian Eckes. Zane Smith rounds out the top five.
Series-regular winners this season: Grant Enfinger (Daytona, Atlanta), Sheldon Creed (Kentucky)
Up Next: The Truck Series heads north to Kansas Speedway for a doubleheader next Friday night and Saturday afternoon. Coverage for Friday’s race begins at 7 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1; Saturday’s coverage is at 1:30 p.m. ET; the races can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate and SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.