MARTINSVILLE, Va. – NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series young gun Christian Eckes proved Tuesday night that he’s found his rhythm in a virtual truck just like he has in real life.
Eckes charged to the win in the 100-lap eNASCAR Gander Outdoors Pro Invitational, using a perfectly-timed bump-and-run move to pass NASCAR Xfinity Series regular Garrett Smithley with eight to go at the virtual Martinsville Speedway.
Once the New York teenager moved into the race lead, he never looked back, jetting out to nearly a full second by the time the checkered flag waved to end the special event.
Eckes, who started from the pole, led a race-high 49 of the 100 laps en route to the victory.
“Man, that was a lot of fun tonight,” Eckes noted after the race. “I knew that we had a faster truck than Garrett did at the end, but it’s hard to pass at Martinsville on the sim, just like it is in real life. You have to pummel your way through a little bit, but I’m glad that iRacing gives us a chance to race like it actually is at Martinsville.
“I’m grateful to NASCAR and iRacing for putting this deal on and it’s cool to come away with the win.”
Though Eckes won’t be in the field for this weekend’s Truck Series event at Martinsville, he will be racing the October race at the .526-mile paper clip, making Tuesday night’s virtual run an impressive tune-up.
“In general, iRacing has helped me out a ton, especially with the speedway stuff that I haven’t had a chance to do a lot of yet,” Eckes said. “It’s a little bit different because you can’t feel the race car with your body, but in the same aspect, you don’t feel much on the speedways in real life in my experience.
“We’ll be at Martinsville in the fall, and hopefully this race tonight is a good omen for us. The hope will be to come back with Kyle Busch Motorsports and take home a clock in October when we get there.”
Smithley, who paced the field for 30 consecutive laps before Eckes’ winning pass, hung on to finish as the runner up and admitted afterward that he simply had nothing left in the closing stages.
“That was tough, but I had a ton of fun,” Smithley grinned. “I did not think that I was going to enjoy this deal very much, because as much as I love iRacing, Martinsville is very low on my favorite track list on the sim. I just couldn’t hold him (Eckes) off at the end. That last pit stop, I took two tires … which I thought was going to be a mistake, but I kept the lead for most of that final stint, surprisingly.
“I just couldn’t hold Christian off; he was better all day long,” he added. “I knew when I saw him in the back mirror that he would be an issue. All in all, though, I’m happy. Second is a nice surprise.”
NASCAR K&N Pro Series West regular Derek Kraus completed the podium, followed by Xfinity Series star Christopher Bell and NASCAR K&N Pro Series East rookie Max McLaughlin.
Second-year Truck Series driver Todd Gilliland crossed the line sixth, followed by NFL player Kyle Long, a Chicago Bears guard who joined the field as a guest racer on Tuesday night and finished seventh.
The race featured five caution flags for 27 laps, as well as nine lead changes among five different drivers.
Twenty drivers, made up of NASCAR touring and national stars and several top-rated drivers on the iRacing service, took part in the invitation-only event on Tuesday night.
Christian Eckes, Garrett Smithley, Derek Kraus, Christopher Bell, Max McLaughlin, Todd Gilliland, Kyle Long, Austin Hill, Anthony Alfredo, Will Rodgers, Parker Kligerman, Tyler Ankrum, Ryan Vargas, Myatt Snider, Noah Gragson, John Hunter Nemechek, Justin Haley, Tyler D. Hudson, Leighton Sibille, Drew Adamson.