Late traffic jam helps Corey Heim to victory in NASCAR Truck Series playoff race in Bristol

Corey Heim (11) beats Christian Eckes (19) to the finish line to win Thursday night’s UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Photo by David Barks.

Christian Eckes dominated the UNOH 200 but got caught in traffic, giving Corey Heim his shot at victory

BRISTON, Tenn. – Corey Heim passed Christian Eckes with six laps left in Thursday night’s UNOH (University of Northwestern Ohio) 200 and went on to win the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series playoff race at Bristol Motor Speedway – the first race in the second round of the Truck Playoffs (the Round of 8).

Eckes dominated the race, leading 150 of the race’s 200 laps over the half-mile short track oval.

Christian Eckes (19) and Carson Hocevar (42) lead the field at the start of Thursday night’s UNOH 200 NASCAR Truck Series playoff race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Photo by David Barks.

But when Eckes got caught in traffic near the end, Heim was able to make his move, powering past Eckes for a 0.218-second victory.

“This is insane,” said Heim. “To win one at the end like that is something special.”

The win – Heim’s third of the season – gives him an automatic entry into the Championship 4 on Friday, Nov. 4, in Phoenix.

“It was an awesome day for us, locking us into the Championship race,” said Heim. “This is long overdue for us. I’m super grateful to be here.”

Eckes’ dominated from the beginning.

Starting on the pole, he led all 55 laps of the first stage to take the Stage 1 win.

But Heim was never that far behind, staying in the top 8 all the way.

Christian Eckes heads to the finish line to win Stage 1 during Thursday night’s UNOH 200 truck race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Photo by David Barks.

Playoff driver Zane Smith, who stayed out while the leaders went to the pits, took the lead at the start of Stage 2 but was passed by Eckes with six laps to go in the stage, giving Eckes a sweep of the first two stages.

But Smith had a pit road penalty for stopping out of the box, sending him back to 22nd, a position from which he’d never recover (he finished 24th).

“It was definitely a frustrating night,” said defending series champion Smith. “It shows just how important track position and clean air was.

“We didn’t have it tonight but there’s still a lot of racing left.”

Stage 3 was all Eckes and Heim.

Eckes led all the way, but never by more than two seconds.

Heim saw his chance and took it when Eckes slowed passing Heim’s teammate, Tanner Gray, with six to go.

“We had good track position for that last stage,” said Heim. “With him having a two-second lead, I thought I’d hang back and save my tires.

“When he got caught up in that lapped traffic, I thought I could catch him.”

“I had a good truck, but I got a little tight there at the end,” said Eckes. “I thought the 15 (Gray) got in my way a little bit but it is what it is. It stinks, for sure.”

Corey Heim comes out of Turn 4 during Thursday night’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Photo by David Barks.

Playoff drivers Grant Enfinger and Carson Hocevar finished third and fourth, respectively.

“Overall, we executed to the best of our ability,” said Enfinger. “I’m not happy with our finish but I think we fired off pretty well for the race and I think we did a pretty good job.”

“Traffic was super difficult tonight,” said Hocevar. “We got pinned on the bottom. We had a really fast truck tonight and we just needed a really good finish.”

Taylor Gray finished fifth with Rajah Caruth sixth.

Playoff driver Ben Rhodes finished seventh, followed by Chase Purdy, playoff driver Nick Sanchez, and Matt DeBenedetto.

Ty Majeski, the final playoff driver, finished 19th.

Carson Hocevar (42) leads Ty Majeski during Thursday night’s truck race in Bristol. Hocevar finished third while Majeski finished eighth. Photo by David Barks.

Heim is automatically locked into the Championship 4.

Eckes, Hocevar, and Enfinger are the next three above the cutline.

In order, Smith, Rhodes, Sanchez, and Majeski are fighting to stay alive.

The Craftsman Truck Series has two more chances for everyone to advance to the Championship; on Sept. 30 at Talladega, and Oct. 21 at Homestead-Miami before the final four will race for the 2023 title in Phoenix.

NASCAR’s Bristol playoff weekend continues Friday night with the Xfinity Food City 300, and Saturday with the Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race.

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