In a blink of an eye Christian Eckes (No.15 JBL Audio Toyota) all but erased a 70-point deficit he had against current ARCA championship point leader and teammate Michael Self (No.25 Sinclair Oil Toyota) after Saturday’s ARCA Menards Series (ARCA) Fall Classic 200 at Salem Speedway.
Coming off a third place finish in Friday night’s Gander Outdoors NASCAR Truck Series event in Las Vegas, 18-year old Eckes took a red eye flight to Indiana where he continued his hot streak and finished second behind fellow Toyota driver Ty Gibbs in Saturday night’s ARCA’s race.
After earning his sixth consecutive top-two finish in ARCA competition, Eckes, who back in April missed Salem’s spring race after being hospitalized with food poisoning, pulled within 5-points in the championship chase after Self finished 14th after an untimely parts failure took him out of competition early.
Self, forced to take his Sinclair Oil Toyota behind the wall for repairs before returning to the track was running second and ahead of Eckes in fourth place when a suspension bolt broke while the field ran under caution on lap-68.
“The race went ok for us,” said Eckes from outside his car on the front stretch after the race. “We had a solid driving car and I really thought we’d have a shot at it when we got the lead off pit road there late in the race. We just weren’t able to capitalize. Ty (Gibbs) was just too strong for us tonight. My JBL Audio team has been really solid and we’ve strung together some good finishes the last two months.”
Asked about Self’s unfortunate circumstances and his subsequent leap in the point standings Eckes, who led four laps on the night offered a less than excited response.
“It’s definitely not the way I wanted to gain points. I have a ton of respect for Michael and for that to happen is definitely unfortunate. That being said, we are in the hunt again and have to continue to bring out A-game the next two races if we wanna win it.”
Also addressing the media after the race was an extremely dejected Michael Self.
“Tonight was such a disappointing night for this entire team,” said Self. “I’m here because Sinclair allows me this opportunity. And we come here to win. When something like this happens it’s just such a letdown. We have two races left. The only thing we can do now is move forward and take it one race at a time.”
Last year’s Fall Classic winner, Chandler Smith (No.20 Craftsman Toyota), finished eighth after being unable to overcome a mid-race penalty for a restart lane violation which put the 17-year old driver a lap down. Smith who struggled to advance early had one of the fastest cars on the track at the end but was not able to get the late race caution he needed to give him a chance at challenging the leaders.
Gavin Harlien (No.55 Autism Awareness #4Presley Toyota) making his third career and final start of the season had his night cut short after his motor expired on lap-74 relegating the rookie driver to a disappointing 16th place finish. Making his first appearance at the hard driving Salem short track, the 21-year old University of Arizona student showed improvement throughout the day but was unfortunately not able to continue the full 200-laps.
With only two races remaining in the 2019 season the stakes are high for both Self and Eckes. Self takes his narrow 5-point margin series lead in the point standings to Indianapolis next.
The ARCA Menards Series will take two weekends off before returning to action in Indianapolis on Saturday October 5 with the Herr's Potato Chips 200 at Lucas Oil Raceway.