Eckes Victorious at Pocono; Splits ARCA Special Awards with Runner-Up Gilliland

Eckes Victorious at Pocono; Splits ARCA Special Awards with Runner-Up Gilliland

It was a tale of two halves in last Friday’s ARCA Menards Series FORTS USA 150 from Pocono Raceway. Todd Gilliland (No. 18 Frontline Enterprises Toyota) jumped out to an early lead from the front row and never wavered until coming in for a pit stop on lap 31. After Gilliland was assessed a pit penalty for merging too soon on the racetrack, Christian Eckes (No. 15 JBL Audio Toyota) took advantage and never looked back, leading the final 26 laps and securing his second victory of the season. As a result, Gilliland and Eckes split the allotment of ARCA’s special awards handed out following Friday’s race.

Gilliland would start the race from the first position after picking up his first General Tire Pole Award of the season. His lap of 172.232 miles per hour was the quickest pole speed for an AMS race at Pocono since Brennan Poole went 172.348 miles per hour in August 2012. Poole holds the track record at 173.554 miles per hour, set in June 2012. Gilliland is the ninth different driver to have started from the pole in 2019.

Gilliland was never challenged for the lead until he made his green flag pit stop and led the most laps of any driver on the day. Gilliland also led at halfway for the first time this year, earning him the Richmond Water Heaters Halfway Leader distinction. Michael Self and Chandler Smith are the only drivers with multiple Richmond Water Heaters Halfway Leader awards this season. Both drivers have led at halfway four times. The 31 laps led at Pocono give Gilliland a total laps led count of 65 on the 2019 season. Smith still leads the series with 659 laps led, having led a lone lap at Pocono. Self failed to lead a lap at Pocono and remains second in the Valvoline Lap Leader standings with 433 laps led. Christian Eckes led 26 laps at Pocono and increases his season total to 262 laps led, the third-best number in the series. Ty Majeski (No. 22 Crestliner Boats Ford) did not compete at the second Pocono event despite winning at the track back in June. He is the only other driver to have led over 100 laps this season, setting the fourth-highest mark at 112 laps led.

Eckes was able to set sail and win with ease after passing Gilliland for the lead. Eckes’ win ensured that he was the top driver in the Bounty Rookie Challenge on the day. Eckes continues to lead the Bounty Rookie of the Year standings with 410 points, with his closest competition being Tommy Vigh Jr. (No. 10 Extreme Kleaner Ford) at a distant 366 points. Vigh finished 17th at Pocono, citing an electrical issue as the reason for his early departure. Tim Richmond (No. 06 Toyota) is third with 282 points.

For leading Eckes to the victory after qualifying second, his crew chief Kevin Reed was named the Cometic Crew Chief of the Race. Reed currently sits in fourth in the Cometic Crew Chief of the Year standings. Billy Venturini, crew chief of the No. 20 Venturini Motorsports Toyota, leads the yearly standings with 107 points. Paul Andrews, crew chief of the No. 22 Chad Bryant Racing Ford is second with 141 points while Mark McFarland, crew chief of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, is in third with 149 points.

Despite the win by Eckes propelling No. 15 car owner Bill Venturini into a tie for fourth in the General Tire Superspeedway Challenge standings, the team has already been eliminated from contention for the Superspeedway Challenge title. That battle will be fought between two teams at Kansas Speedway: Chad Bryant’s No. 22 Ford, the GT Superspeedway Challenge points leader at 2585 points; and Billy Venturini’s No. 20 Toyota, second in the standings with 2470 points. Barring the No. 22 failing to start the race with Ty Majeski at the wheel, Bryant’s crew should have one of the prestigious “championships-within-a-championship” all but locked up upon rolling into the track in October. Venturini will tab Harrison Burton (No. 20 Ruud Toyota) to try to chase down Majeski at Kansas.

Pocono was the first race held after Toyota clinched the manufacturer’s title following the previous week’s race at Iowa Speedway. Toyota kept up the strong 2019 season by winning at Pocono as well. It was the 12th win of the year for Toyota. Ford, three-time 2019 winners, and Chevrolet, winless in 2019, will battle it out for second. Ford has 85 points while Chevrolet has 76 points. Dodge is fourth in the standings with 18 points. Dodge body styles will only be allowed to compete in four more races this season.

Bret Holmes (No. 23 Holmes II Excavation Chevrolet) finished seventh at Pocono, one lap down, and maintained his position atop the S&S Volvo Laps Completed standings. Holmes has completed 1975 of the 1984 laps run this season. Travis Braden (No. 27 MatrixCare/Consonus Ford) finished ninth, one lap down as well, and held steady in second with 1893 laps completed. Joe Graf Jr. (No. 77 Eat Sleep Race Chevrolet) is third in the standings with 1836 laps completed.

After more than two months off, the CGS Imaging Four Crown will return in the ARCA Menards Series’ next race, the Allen Crowe 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds. The race at the Springfield mile will represent the dirt portion of the Four Crown championship. Todd Gilliland won the superspeedway leg at Talladega in April while Ty Majeski won the speedway leg at Michigan in June. The final event will be the short track race at Salem in September. Majeski currently leads the CGS Imaging Four Crown standings with 430 points, but he is not expected to compete at Springfield or Salem. Behind Majeski, the standings are knotted up very tightly. Travis Braden has 395 points, enough points for sole possession of second place – and first among series regulars. Behind Braden, three drivers are tied at 390 points: Michael Self, Joe Graf Jr., and Riley Herbst (No. 18 Monster Energy Toyota). Like Majeski, Herbst is not expected to compete at Springfield or Salem. That leaves Braden, Self and Graf separated by just five points, and the trio has enough breathing room over the other series regulars to fight it out solely among themselves. To make things more interesting, Self has never raced on dirt while Braden and Graf have just two starts each on the dirt miles. At Springfield last year, Braden ran fourth while Graf crashed out and finished 16th.

The next ARCA Menards Series race will be the Allen Crowe 100 at the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield, IL, on Sunday, August 18. This will be the first of two consecutive dirt track races for the ARCA Menards Series, with a healthy contingent of dirt ringers expected to compete with the series regulars for the win at Springfield. MAVTV will provide live television coverage beginning at 2:30 PM Eastern on Sunday, while will host live timing & scoring and a live chat free for all registered users.