KANSAS City, Kan. — Christian Eckes grabbed the lead on the final restart and stole a victory in Friday night‘s Kansas Lottery 200, the Round of 10 elimination race in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
In a three-wide battle for the lead against Corey Heim and Zane Smith, Eckes led only the final two laps to secure his third victory of the season, his first at Kansas Speedway and the fourth of his career.
In a last-lap scramble that saw Smith get loose, turn sideways and fade to fifth, Taylor Gray finished second, .363 seconds behind Eckes. Matt DiBenedetto ran third in a valiant effort to earn a berth in the Round of 8.
But with Ben Rhodes finishing 25th after securing a total of 11 points in the first two stages, Rhodes claimed the final spot in the next round by five points over DiBenedetto.
DiBenedetto is out of his ride at the end of the year, too, having announced that he has decided not to return to the No. 25 Rackley W.A.R. Chevrolet next season. DiBenedetto added that he is looking for opportunities in all three of NASCAR‘s national series.
Also eliminated from the playoffs was Matt Crafton, who had to go to a reserve truck after running over debris and wrecking in practice earlier in the day. Crafton‘s No. 88 Ford slapped the wall on Lap 69 of Friday‘s race, and after attempted repairs, he finished 33rd, nine laps down and 11 points out of the Round of 8.
Heim, who finished fourth, had the lead when the trucks of Rajah Caruth and Tanner Gray collided on the frontstretch on Lap 127 to cause the fifth and final caution.
“That was wild,” Eckes said after climbing from his truck. “I didn‘t know if I was going to win it or not. We had like a sixth-place truck all day, but when that caution came out, I knew we had a shot at it, and here we are.
“We haven‘t won in a real long time — so I wanted to set a tone. Went all the way to the Round of 10 — second, third, first (in the first three playoff races). So can‘t beat that. Proud of all these guys.”
MORE: At-track photos: Kansas
DiBenedetto would have advanced with a victory but came up two positions short.
“Honestly this team fought so hard, worked their tail off to give me a good-looking truck and a good-handling truck all night,” DiBenedetto said. “So, man, we made the most of it, for sure. Just so thankful for these guys and (sponsor) Rackley Roofing.”
Carson Hocevar came home sixth, followed by Stewart Friesen and Nick Sanchez, who took the lead from pole winner Chase Purdy and won the first 30-lap stage wire-to-wire. Hocevar edged Sanches for the Stage 2 win.
Seventeenth-place finisher Grant Enfinger and 18th-place Ty Majeski already had earned spots in the Round of 8 with victories in the first two Playoff races, and Eckes and Heim already were in on points. Hocevar clinched his place in the next round with a ninth-place result in Stage 1, with Smith, Sanchez and Rhodes advancing on points on Friday night.
Sanchez led a race-high 43 laps, followed by Heim with 40 and Hocevar with 32.
The Craftsman Truck Series’ next race is scheduled Thursday (9 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at Bristol Motor Speedway. The 200-lap event will open the three-race Round of 8, which will determine the final four drivers who will race for the championship in the Nov. 3 finale at Phoenix Raceway.
Contributing: Staff reports