Friday night's ARCA Menards Series championship race between Venturini Motorsports' teammates Christian Eckes (No.15 JBL Toyota) and Michael Self (No.25 Sinclair Oil Toyota) at Kansas Speedway will go down as an instant classic.
Living up to the event's pre-race hype Christian Eckes delivered a masterful performance after all seemed lost. Eckes, who once again had to overcome adversity, drove to victory lane and was crowned the series' 2019 champion after an epic heavy weight battle filled with all the excitement and drama one could hope and expect.
After engine issues during qualifying forced Eckes' JBL Audio Toyota team to change motors, the 18-year old driver was forced to start from the rear of the field, while Self qualified second and started from the outside front row.
Self, jumping out to the lead on the first lap would dominate the first 57 circuits of the scheduled 100-lap event. But on the restart after the races second caution of the night Eckes took away the lead and drove away.
"The day didn't go smoothly at all," said the Middletown, NY native. "We had an engine problem in qualifying and the guys had to change it an hour before the race. We started at the back and we were in the top ten in five laps. The car was on a rail all night."
Eckes night wasn't smooth, and neither was his entire season.
After taking the championship lead after the second race of the season, at Five Flags Speedway, Eckes fell ill and was hospitalized the night before the third race of the year at Salem Speedway. He missed the race, giving up the points lead to teammate Self.
Eckes and his Kevin Reed-led team were tenacious throughout the summer and fall, closing the gap by finishing the final seven races second or better before retaking the lead two weeks ago at Lucas Oil Raceway. This was Eckes's fourth win of the season.
Eckes became the first series champion since Tim Steele in 1996 to miss a race en route to the championship.
"We even missed a race," Eckes said in disbelief in victory lane. "The entire season has been filled with drama and we are still here. It's absolutely incredible."
Self, who finished second, did all he could do to turn the tables on his Venturini Motorsports teammate. He jumped out to the lead at the start and led the first 57 laps, locking up five bonus points for leading a lap and by the halfway point clinching an additional five bonus points for leading the most laps.
"Second sucks," Self said after visiting Eckes in victory lane. "I am thankful to have the opportunity to come and race for a championship. We won four times but we had a lot of ups and downs. I wish it would have turned out differently but I am really happy for Christian and the Venturini team. I just wish it played out in our favor tonight."
Eckes' championship victory was VMS' 14th win of the 20-race season and put an exclamation point on a dream season for the long time ARCA team. Eckes finished 25 points ahead of Self in the final ARCA Menards Series championship standings.
Adding to the team's history making night in Kansas, the No.20 Toyota team led by Billy Venturini, captured the Series' Owner Championship, giving the organization their first title since Bill Venturini won the 1991 driver championship
The ARCA Menards Series racing season is now complete, with the next event on the calendar the annual Championship Awards Banquet held at the Indiana State Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis, in conjunction with the annual Performance Racing Industry Trade Show, set for Saturday December 14.