Call him the comeback kid. Six months after an early season health scare put his championship hopes in peril, Toyota Racing Development's (TRD) Christian Eckes has risen from a 245-point deficit to find himself in position to compete for the 2019 ARCA Menards Series Championship Title next week in the series' finale at Kansas Speedway.
Eckes who was leading the series points battle early on after the second race of the season relinquished the top spot after being forced to withdrawal from April's Salem Speedway race after being hospitalized with health complications stemming from food poisoning.
Falling as far back as sixth in the standings, Eckes, driver of the No.15 JBL Audio Toyota, has fought his way back and now holds a slim 20-point advantage in the standings after taking away the points lead from his Venturini Motorsports teammate Michael Self (No.25 Sinclair Oil Toyota) last week at Lucas Oil Speedway.
"It was really defeating," said Eckes as he reflected on the moment. "When you're extremely sick in the hospital while your car is out on the track without you, it definitely gets to you. Luckily I had great people around me that brought me back up and kept me in a good mindset.
"Thinking about the big picture I definitely knew that it was going to be a challenge to come back. Losing over 200 points early in the season is really disheartening to say the least, but our JBL Audio team has been resilient and has never given up."
Manifesting his own destiny, Eckes' climb back to the top is not difficult to interrupt. Since making his return to the track the 18-year old driver from Middletown, NY has impressively collected three wins and is in the midst of a two-month span of six consecutive races without finishing outside the top two positions. Over 18 starts on the season he's collected three victories, two General Tire Pole Awards, 12 top-5's and 16 top-10 finishes.
"We had a bit of shaky start once I got back into the car. After the Elko race we all sat down and realized that we needed to be better. We had to cut out the mistakes and capitalize on our opportunities better. It's taken a lot of hard work and effort to get on this roll but it's paid off."
"It feels good to be in the position we are now. We really haven't had the pressure on us all year, so it's definitely a change of pace. At the end of the day, we just need to go do what we do and be perfect at Kansas to finish the job."
All eyes now turn to Kansas. Eckes with limited intermediate track experience now puts his faith in his team and his ability to hold the advantage and finish the season on the highest of notes.
Holding a slim point advantage over Self, both drivers know there's no room for error and have their collective sights on grabbing maximum point values at Kansas - and the only way to do that is ending the season in victory lane.
The ARCA Menards Series will end the season on Friday, October 18 at the Kansas Speedway with the running of the ARCA Kansas 150. Eight months and nineteen races have passed since Venturini Motorsports' Harrison Burton won the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in February, and now it's time to crown a champion at Kansas. Live television coverage will be provided by FS2 beginning at 8:30 PM Eastern, with a repeat airing on FS1 later at 11:30 PM Eastern.