After stealing a victory last Saturday at Kansas Speedway, Christian Eckes got his pocket picked by Corey Heim on Thursday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.
On lap 195 of 200 of the UNOH 200 Presented by Ohio Logistics, Heim forced his way beneath Eckes’ No. 19 Chevrolet — with the lapped truck of Eckes’ TRICON Garage teammate, Tanner Gray, to the outside — took the lead and claimed the victory by 0.218s over his disappointed rival.
With his third NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory of the season, his first at Bristol and the fifth of his career, Heim, the regular-season champion, moved one step closer to another possible title. The win propelled him into the Championship 4 race, scheduled for Nov. 3 at Phoenix Raceway.
“This is insane,” said Heim, who led only the last six laps. “I felt like I’ve given so many away this year, to win one like that at the end is so special… Like I said, we’ve given so many away, and we finally got one back…
“Gosh, it’s just so awesome to know we’re in Phoenix.”
Eckes seemed Phoenix-bound himself before Heim made the decisive pass. Eckes led 150 laps and swept the first two stages. The runner-up finish left him one point behind Heim in the Playoff standings but without a ticket to the Championship 4.
“I just think it’s ironic that the 15 (Tanner Gray) is three laps down and waited,” said Eckes, who felt Gray held him up and allowed Heim to close in. “Whatever. Good truck. I got really tight there at the end…
“That one stinks, for sure.”
If it’s any consolation to Eckes, mistakes and ill-fortune that beset other drivers created a significant spread between those above the cut line for the Championship 4 and those below it.
Defending series champion Zane Smith was penalized for pitting outside his box on lap 116, was relegated to the rear of the fell and fell a lap down to Eckes on lap 161. He finished 24th and heads for the next race — Sept. 30 at Talladega — in fifth place, 14 points behind Grant Enfinger (third on Friday) for the final Playoff-eligible position.
Contact between Heim’s Toyota and Ty Majeski’s Ford cut Majeski’s right front tire on lap 107, three laps before the of Stage 2. Majeski was never a factor after that and finished 19th, leaving him 22 points behind Enfinger.
Carson Hocevar finished fourth and enters the second Round of 8 race at Talladega 18 points above the cut line.
Tyler Gray, Rajah Caruth, Ben Rhodes, Chase Purdy, rookie Nick Sanchez and Matt DiBenedetto completed the top 10.
Sanchez started at the back of the field because of a broken suspension part that prevented him from making a qualifying run. Though he salvaged the ninth-place result, he trails Enfinger by 22 points with two races left in the Round of 8.