By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Two promising talents will be given the shot of a lifetime by competing full-time in the 2020 NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
KBM announced Thursday that Canadian driver Raphael Lessard will replace Todd Gilliland in the No. 4 Toyota Tundra while ARCA Menards Series champion Christian Eckes will pilot the No. 18 Tundra as current driver Harrison Burton will move up to the Xfinity Series.
Eckes has shown blistering speed in Trucks, scoring three top-10 finishes. However, Eckes has definitely shined during qualifying, scoring three poles.
Although missing a race due to illness, the 19-year-old was still able to put on a strong campaign in ARCA. He scored four wins, two poles, 13 top-fives and an average finish of 4.8. Good enough to beat his Venturini Motorsports teammate Michael Self for the series title.
With sponsorship support from Safelite AutoGlass, Eckes is prepared for the vital task at hand of representing KBM, a team that cares about winning races and championships.
“Returning to KBM to compete full-time for a NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship with the support of Safelite AutoGlass and Toyota is an opportunity that I’ve worked my whole life for and I’m ready to take advantage of it,” Eckes said. “Being around the Truck Series the last few seasons, I’ve been able to see firsthand how much effort Safelite puts into their racing program and I’m excited to represent them not only on the track, but in the communities that we race in.”
KBM owner Kyle Busch said his success in ARCA and what he’s done this season in Trucks gave him the confidence of promoting him to the No. 18 team and pleased to have Safelite stick with his program.
“Christian has won races and a championship in the ARCA Series and we feel like he’s capable of doing the same driving for us full-time in the Truck Series next year,” Busch said. “He’s shown speed while running a part-time schedule for us the past couple of seasons — he’s won poles, led laps and been in a position to win a few races. We feel like it’s just a matter of time before he puts everything together and starts winning at this level.”
“We’re excited to continue our partnership with Safelite — the outpouring of support that they provide our organization is second to none in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. The number of associates and guests on hand each week cheering on our team is amazing and they also do great job of getting our drivers involved with charitable initiatives in the community.”
Eckes will run Friday’s Ford EcoBoost 200 as he’ll aim of bringing the No. 51 team the owner’s championship as they made the Championship 4 in that category.
The polarizing Lessard made five Truck Series starts, scoring two top-10 finishes with an average finish of 11.1. Outside of Trucks, the Canadian racer competed in three ARCA starts with two top-fives to his name and scored a win in the Pinty’s Series at Autodrome Chauiere in Vallee-Jonction, Quebec in late June.
Lessard has driven in KBM’s Super Late Model machine where last year he scored major wins at Bristol Motor Speedway and the Red Bud 400 at Anderson Speedway in Indiana.
Through all the hard work, Lessard said he’s thankful for everyone that’s given him the opportunity to drive on the national tour.
“I’ve been working really hard the last few years to put myself in position to drive full-time for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series — so this opportunity is a dream come true,” Lessard said. “I can’t thank Kyle and everyone at KBM, Toyota and TRD enough for having the confidence to put me in their truck and it wouldn’t be possible without the support of my parents and everyone that has invested in getting me to this point.
“Being able to drive for such a great organization in one of NASCAR’s top three series is going to be awesome and I’m going to work hard on and off the race track to learn as much as I can to get better every race.”
Busch said like Truck Series champions Erik Jones and Christopher Bell, Lessard has shown tremendous capability and hopes he can bring KBM back into winning and playoff contending form next season.
“We’ve watched Raphael grow as both a driver and a person since joining our Super Late Model program in 2018 and we’re looking forward to being a part of his continued progression as he graduates to a full-time role in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series next year,” Busch said. “Similar to Erik Jones and Christopher Bell before him, Raphael joined our Super Late Model program and immediately won some big races. Then, when given a part-time Truck Series schedule, they all proved capable of running up front and earned the right to compete full time.
“Erik and Christopher went on to win races and a championship in trucks, now Raphael has the opportunity to continue to follow their blueprint.”
Other announcements such as additional sponsors for Lessard, crew chiefs for both Eckes and Lessard, and drivers piloting other KBM trucks will be announced at a later date.
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