Concord, North Carolina (August 27, 2018) – Christian Eckes and his JBL Audio Toyota team returned to action over the weekend with his Venturini Motorsports team for the running of the Primera Plastics 200 at Berlin Raceway.
The race originally scheduled in July was postponed at the time due to rain and run Saturday night, delivering excitement and controversy under the lights in front of a near capacity crowd.
Eckes, looking for his second consecutive ARCA Racing Series victory, started sixth, lining up in the third row side-by-side with teammate Chandler Smith. The two previous series winners would battle all night long. Eckes, who appeared to have a slight edge would never get chance to find out as his night ended in disappointment after blowing out a left front tire and settling for 11th.
After taking the green flag at Berlin, VMS teammates Christian Eckes and Chandler Smith would run in the top five before taking over the race near the halfway point as the two previous series winners drove to the front swapping positions for the top spot.
On a restart with 25-laps remaining, Smith and Eckes would occupy the first two spots and seemingly would ride it out and battle for the victory. That was until lap-178, when a hard charging Eckes would dramatically slow after blowing out his left front tire without warning along the backstretch.
Eckes’ misfortunes appeared to be Smith’s gift as the two drivers were clearly the class of the field after the halfway point of the race. The two teenage drivers combined to lead 80 laps on the night.
After a debris caution Smith would once again take charge on the restart stretching out his lead over Zane Smith to three car lengths with 10-laps remaining. Smith with eyes on his second career win would take the white flag. Then on the final turn with the checkered flag waiving Smith was taken out from behind by Joe Graf Jr. who dive-bombed the corner looking to intentionally take out Smith.
Take out Smith he did. The yellow flag quickly came out as Smith would spin to the inside of the track in front of a raucous crowd of onlookers unhappy with the move by Graf. Setting up a second consecutive overtime race Smith would find his way back in line on the restart and finish the race seventh after a clean green-white-checker finish.
“I have no idea what to say,” said a dejected Smith who led 37-laps on the night and appeared to be in line for his second career victory. “We had the race won tonight until we got absolutely flat out dumped by the 77-car. I understand short track racing – but that guy drove recklessly through everyone like he was playing a video game. Just not the way I would’ve done it. I hate it for my guys. This Craftsman Toyota team did a heck of a job tonight. This is a great Venturini Motorsports team – It’s super aggravating – we should be celebrating. Instead we’re loading up and looking ahead to Indianapolis.”
Eckes, who led 43-laps on the night would finish one lap down after blowing his tire and finish 11th.
“We has a super-fast JBL Camry tonight,” said Eckes. “It’s really unfortunate, was passing back for the lead when it happened. Not really sure what went down in turns 3 and 4 but it killed our night. Just put it in the back pocket and move on to the next i guess. Thanks Toyota, JBL, Sirius XM and all my guys that make this 15 as fast as it is.”
Natalie Decker, who started her day running the Trans AM race at Road America prior to flying across lake Michigan to compete in the ARCA race, finished tenth and was scored as the last car on the lead lap. Berlin marks back-to-back top-10 finishes for the popular rookie. Decker the only VMS driver competing in the full series schedule maintains her seventh spot in the driver point standings.
The Series will return to action on Labor Day for the annual General Tire Grabber 100 on the Magic Mile at the DuQuoin State Fairgrounds.