The second half of the 2019 ARCA Menards Series kicks off with the Day to Day Coffee 150 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway just across the mighty Mississippi from downtown St. Louis in Madison, Illinois on Saturday, June 22. The race, part of a unique same-day doubleheader with the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series, will take the green flag for 120 laps shortly after 7:30 pm ET/6:30 pm CT that evening.
Between the two series, the day will feature over three and a half hours of practice, two qualifying sessions, and 350 miles of racing action.
The day’s track activity is scheduled to start at 10:35 A.M. local time and end some time around midnight when the Gander Truck race sees the checkered flag. Nearly 14 hours of uninterrupted track time makes it a long day for everyone involved. It makes it even longer for drivers doing double duty.
Christian Eckes (No. 15 JBL Audio Toyota) is scheduled to compete in both series. Currently fourth in the ARCA Menards Series with one win in his nine previous starts this season, Eckes has also made a splash in his limited Truck starts over the last season and a half. He made his Truck debut at Iowa last summer and finished eighth then went to Gateway last where he qualified second, won the first stage and led a total of 34 laps before an accident ended his night early. He finished ninth in his other two starts last season at Martinsville and Phoenix. He started from the pole in both the ARCA and Truck season openers at Daytona in 2019, and he picked up his fourth-career ARCA win earlier this season at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville.
Fourteen hours in a passenger car would be tough for anyone, but Eckes is looking forward to the challenge the long day at Gateway will present him.
“It’s one of my favorite race tracks,” Eckes said. “We should have won both of those races last year. It’s going to be a very long day. I didn’t even think about the fact it’s going to be a fourteen-hour day until right now. I think between the ARCA car and the Truck we should have a chance to win both races.”
Despite his youth, he’s still just 18 years of age, Eckes has built a record many drivers with years of experience would envy. He won the Myrtle Beach 400 and then followed that with a win in the famed Snowball Derby in 2016. He’s been a part of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s late model program before making the leap to the Toyota driver development program which has allowed him to race for the Venturini family in ARCA and Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series.
Busch has been very outspoken about the performance of his young Gander Trucks drivers this season. While he’s only run one previous race with the team to this point of the season and might not have been fully included in those comments, Eckes wouldn’t shy away from receiving that type of criticism from his owner.
“I think it depends on the person, but for me I would rather hear it up front,” he said. “I don’t know if that works for everybody. We’ve always had a way of coming back after some tough times. I feel like I am good at knowing what I need to do better. You have to be honest with yourself. I appreciate Kyle or whoever it is telling me like it is and pointing me in the right direction.”
That criticism doesn’t necessarily add to the pressure to perform.
“It doesn’t add to that pressure at all for me,” Eckes said. “I agree with him. He has great stuff. We should be able to go out and win in that equipment. I feel like there are a couple of races we have left on our schedule that we should be able to go out and win in the Truck. I don’t let that distract me from what I am doing though. I expect a lot out of myself already.”
Eckes has had a trying season to this point. One of the pre-season favorites to contend for the ARCA Menards Series championship, Eckes missed the third race of the season at Salem Speedway due to an illness the night before the race. Eckes’ health recovered quickly, but his luck didn’t. He was involved in an accident and finished 26th in the next series race at Talladega. Despite giving up nearly two full races worth of points to teammate Michael Self (No. 25 Sinclair Lubricants Toyota), Eckes is just 115 points out of the championship points lead.
Even though he missed that early-season race, Eckes believes he still has a solid chance to win the championship. But in order to do that, he and his Kevin Reed-led team cannot give away any more of those valuable championship points.
“I think we have lacked on some of our opportunities, so I give us a B to this point,” he said, grading his performance to this point of the year. “We haven’t capitalized the way I would have liked to. We’ve had great racecars to this point. We need to start putting full races together. We have great speed and everything we need to go do it. We need to eliminate the failures we have, whether it’s on the car or with the driver. If we can do that we’ll be good.”
Practice for the ARCA Menards Series Day to Day Coffee 150 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway is scheduled from 12:35 pm ET/11:35 pm CT and 2:30 pm ET/1:30 pm CT; General Tire Pole Qualifying is set for 5:30 pm ET/4:30 pm CT, and the green flag will fall on the 120 lap/150-mile race at 7:30 pm ET/6:30 pm CT. The race will be televised live on MAVTV. ARCA for Me members can access live timing & scoring, live track updates, and live chat throughout all on-track activities at ARCAracing.com. New users can register for free with a valid email address at ARCAracing.com/login. For ticket information, call 618-215-8888 or log on to www.wwtraceway.com.