Gilliland’s Mistake Hands Eckes ARCA Triumph

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Christian Eckes celebrates after winning Friday's ARCA Menards Series race at Pocono Raceway. (ARCA Photo)
Christian Eckes celebrates after winning Friday’s ARCA Menards Series race at Pocono Raceway. (ARCA Photo)

LONG POND, Pa. – Christian Eckes made a statement that he will be a threat for the ARCA Menards Series championship with a dominant victory in Friday’s FORTS USA 150 at Pocono Raceway.

Eckes took control on lap 35 when the dominant driver in the early stages of the race, General Tire Pole Award winner Todd Gilliland, was penalized for a blend line violation after his only pit stop of the afternoon.

Eckes led the final 26 laps of the caution free race to score his second win of the season and fifth overall.

Once Eckes was alerted by his crew that he would be the leader after Gilliland’s penalty, he kept his head in the game to minimize mistakes.

“Once they told me what happened to the 18 it was all about keeping our heads down and not making any mistakes,” Eckes said. “We knew there was a long way to go and we needed to be perfect to close it out.”

Gilliland, who led the first 31 laps in a substitute role for Joe Gibbs Racing while the team’s regular driver Riley Herbst is racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Iowa Speedway, was disappointed with his second-place run.

“The blend line rule is different in Trucks and ARCA,” he said. “In the truck, we can go above the line with the right side tires as long as we keep the left side tires below it. In ARCA they want you to keep all four tires below it until your between turns one and two. It wouldn’t have been a problem for me at all to keep them below the line. I should have know it but I didn’t.”

With his second win of the season, Eckes closes the gap on his Venturini Motorsports teammate and championship leader Michael Self, who finished third. Eckes knows with just five races remaining every point matters.

“We need to be perfect from here on out,” Eckes said. “Without missing the race at Salem, we’d be 150 points ahead. Without the last lap at Elko we’d be within 50 points or so. We were perfect here today and we need to be perfect every week from here on out. I’ve won at three of the five tracks and my crew chief Kevin Reed has won at all five of them so I am confident we can make a run at it.”

Self finished third in what was an uneventful race for the points leader.

“We had a right rear tire go down and we had to pit early,” Self said. “Once the field cycled through and we didn’t get a caution it evened out for us. We weren’t close to second place and we were way ahead of fourth so we were just trying to make sure we didn’t do anything to give it away at the end.”

The finish:

Christian Eckes, Todd Gilliland, Michael Self, Corey Heim, Raphael Lessard, Austin Wayne Self, Bret Holmes, Chandler Smith, Travis Braden, Joe Graf Jr., Thad Moffitt, Bobby Gerhart, Ed Pompa, Willie Mullins, Tim Richmond, Brad Smith, Tommy Vigh Jr., Dick Doheny, Mike Basham.