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NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series

Eckes Forgets Disappointing 2023 End With Two Early Wins


Christian Eckes before NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series practice at Texas Motor Speedway. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

Christian Eckes couldn’t have ended the 2023 season on a more bittersweet note. After a speeding penalty at Homestead-Miami Speedway ultimately took him out of championship contention, he won the season finale at Phoenix Raceway.

Had the speeding penalty not happened?

What if he won at Bristol Motor Speedway instead of finishing runner-up?

How about if he didn’t lose the draft on the final lap at Talladega Superspeedway?

Eckes would’ve been the 2023 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion. Instead, it went to Ben Rhodes.

Certainly, that fueled the fire in 2024. The Middletown, New York, native already has two wins in seven races, pacing driver’s points over Corey Heim. Naturally, his first came at Bristol.

“It was lots of added motivation for sure,” Eckes said. “But there’s a certain point where that stuff’s in the past and we got to move on. That’s kind of where we’re at now. I think that motivation fueled the Bristol win, but now we just kind of want to go chase the championship.

“We kind of knew [a win] would happen eventually, so it’s good to get it out of the way and just know that we can win, kind of check that box. But overall, we’re focused on the next race. We don’t really think about [Bristol] anymore. We’re just trying to move on and keep winning.”

Until he nailed down his second win of the season at Martinsville Speedway, Eckes wasn’t thrilled with how the season started. Sure, he acknowledged the dominating victory at Martinsville, where he led 144 laps. But he thought his No. 19 McAnally-Hilgemann Racing team could’ve maximized the opening stretch of races even more.

Eckes ran up front in the opener at Daytona International Speedway but got swept up in three wrecks over the final 22 laps, making a comeback in NASCAR Overtime to finish 1oth. He battled brake issues at Atlanta Motor Speedway and finished 32nd, along with results of sixth at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and eighth at Circuit of the Americas sandwiched around his win.

Outside of the wins though, Eckes said things have felt just a tick off.


Christian Eckes during NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series practice at Martinsville Speedway, a race he ultimately won. (Photo: Wayne Riegle | The Podium Finish)

“We’ve been having a lot of issues. I don’t know if it’s just growing pains with expanding the team,” Eckes explained. “We’ve struggled a little bit on our end, mechanical issues and stuff like that. But I’m confident we’ll get it figured out. We have speed every week and the capability to go win. Just have to get the bugs kind of worked out.

“The consistency is there, but to push us from that sixth to eighth range where we’ve ran those races, we need to clean some stuff. I feel like we’re capable of more than that and we’ve proven that we can do more than that. Just need a little bit here and there.”

Since joining MHR last winter, Eckes has delivered six victories, including the organization’s first in the Truck series in March 2023. He elevated MHR to a championship-contending team as owner Bill McAnally focused the growth of the company around the 23-year-old.

“It’s just impressive to see Bill’s leadership and determination to make this a race-winning program,” Eckes said. “When I came from ThorSport, I didn’t really know what to expect with that being a race-winning organization. Then coming to a relatively new and unproven organization, I didn’t know what it’d be like. He promised me that he’d make the changes to make it better and he’s excelled on all of that plus some. It’s been cool to be a part of and cool to see the progression even from the start of last year to this year.

“It’s been kind of nice to be able to make improvements myself and say, ‘Hey, we did this over here. We should probably do this here’ and actually see change and see the things come to fruition is kind of the biggest thing. I really like the role that I’m in here in kind of a leadership role and having a little bit more responsibility.”

The makeup of the organization, though, looks different. Eckes has two new teammates as MHR shook up the driver lineup, also adding a third full-time truck. Instead of Jake Garcia, who went over to ThorSport, Daniel Dye and Tyler Ankrum slide over and take the reigns.

So far, it’s gone well. Ankrum sits sixth in points and Dye, a 20-year-old, ranks 11th.

But the most important thing for Eckes is working with crew chief Charles Denike for the second consecutive season. Six of Denike’s eight victories have come atop the box for Eckes.


Christian Eckes during the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway. (Photo: Dylan Nadwodny | The Podium Finish)

“We’re both very detail oriented so it kind of meshes well and we all kind of push towards the same goal of perfection,” Eckes said. “It’s been awesome to be able to have an offseason. Last year, we kind of went over what I did at ThorSport and he went over what he did at GMS, and we kind of combined that into last year, and then this offseason, we were able to sit down and go through every race and improve even more on that. It’s been a good working relationship.

“I’ve never actually had two back-to-back full-time seasons with the same team, so it’s good to have that notebook and to continue improving.”

As the Truck series approaches a stretch of four races in as many weeks, Eckes has one goal — keep stockpiling playoff points. Reflecting on how last year ended, the Chevrolet driver knows the importance of the bonus points toward a championship run.

“The hardest thing to come by is the playoff points because you have to win and run really well,” Eckes said. “Just keep improving, keep getting ready for the playoffs. We can take some chances here and there to try to improve our position whether it’s bring a different setup and try some things or be aggressive and gamble for a win

“I felt like last year we didn’t necessarily have a shot and we ended up having a shot. So that was good to do, just to check that box. But at the same time, I feel like we’re more prepared now than ever to go do that.”

Nathan Solomon serves as the managing editor of The Podium Finish. He has been part of the team since 2021 and is accredited by the National Motorsports Press Association. Solomon is a senior in the Jandoli School of Communication at St. Bonaventure University. Contact him at

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