Andy Eckrich’s assessment of his season to date is a bit misleading.
“To be honest with you, it’s been a struggle,” the Iowa City driver said. “We’ve had fast cars. We just haven’t been able to finish out.”
He’s right, to a degree. In 17 races this season, he has yet to get to Victory Lane. However, what he’s lacked in wins, he’s made up for in consistency with 14 top 10s and 13 top fives. It’s good enough for him to climb up to fourth in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national standings.
“We’ve got a good car count and a good team,” Eckrich said. “We’re lucky enough that there are three race tracks in the surrounding 200 miles from us. We have a bunch of crew guys that just work their butts off and we can race three nights a week.”
Eckrich races his dirt Late Model weekly at three Iowa tracks: Farley Speedway on Fridays, West Liberty on Saturdays and Dubuque on Sundays. It’s the same circuit that his competitor, Brian Harris, came within two points of winning the national championship last year.
Keith Rocco, who runs his asphalt Modified at three tracks in Connecticut, remains the overall leader with 607 points. While his races at the Waterford Speedbowl and Thompson International Speedway were rained out last week, he picked up his second straight win at Stafford Motor Speedway.
Defending champion Philip Morris finished third in the asphalt Late Model feature at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford, Va., to remain second behind Rocco with 575 points. Nebraska’s Bill Leighton Jr. did not get a race in and stays at third with 516 points.
Following Eckrich, who also has 516 points, is California driver Nick Joanides. Joanides swept the Super Late Model features at Toyota Speedway at Irwindale (Calif.) to push his total to 492 points.
In other developments, David Wilson is the highest-ranking Rookie of the Year presented by Jostens contender, breaking into the top 10 while racing at Hickory Motor Speedway. He is 10th overall.
The 26-year-old Eckrich is very familiar with chasing NASCAR championships.
His father won the 1987 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship with Roger Dolan out of the Oxford, Iowa-based, family-owned Precision Performance, and has fielded cars for a number of regional champions. Andy was the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Iowa state champion in 2007 and finished sixth in the nation last year.
“We’ve always had success here at the shop – I’ve grown up working on race cars,” said Eckrich, who is a shock tech at the shop. Two of his brothers also race, while the third serves as the car chief for everybody. With his background, he knows the expectation level is high.
“It’s fun pressure to have,” Eckrich said. “But it’s also knowing you’re expected to do well at the track because when you screw up, you hear about it for weeks.”
Running three races a week isn’t as simple as hauling the car to the track, either. All three venues are vastly different in configuration and result in different strategies.
“Farley is a high-banked half-mile that has some good speeds to it,” Eckrich said. “You have to be pretty on top of the wheel. West Liberty is my favorite. It’s a flat, slow, slick half-mile that you can really position people on. You almost have to drive the dirt like asphalt, as funny as that sounds. Dubuque is a real high-banked 3/8-mile bullring and you’re sideways all the way around.”
Eckrich also has to deal with the payoff for his consistency: more cars to pass. Because the tracks invert the lineup based on previous results, he often has to start deep in the field. That’s also hampered his quest for Victory Lane.
“I’ve run a lot of people down and just run out of laps,” Eckrich said. “But that’s okay, that’s just the name of the game.”
The NASCAR Whelen All-American Series champion also earns a secure spot in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, to be held at the Toyota Speedway at Irwindale in 2010.
Under the points structure for the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series, the race winner will receive two points for every car in the event up to 23 cars. Second place will receive two fewer points, and so-on through the field. For example, if there are 23 cars, the winner receives 46 points, second gets 44 and third 42. If there are 15 cars, the winner receives 30 points, second gets 28 and third 26. Race winners receive an additional five bonus points.
National Top 500 NASCAR Point Leaders
Pos Driver Track Starts Wins T-5 T-10 Points
1 Keith Rocco Waterford Speedbowl 16 7 12 13 607
2 Philip Morris Motor Mile Speedway 14 7 12 12 575
3 Bill Leighton, Jr I-80 Speedway 14 4 13 13 516
4 Andy Eckrich West Liberty Raceway 17 0 13 14 516
5 Nick Joanides Toyota Speedway At Irwindale 11 8 11 11 492
6 C E Falk, III Langley Speedway 12 4 11 12 450
7 Matt Buller I-80 Speedway 14 2 6 13 450
8 Les Siebert I-80 Speedway 14 0 8 12 442
9 Dexter Canipe, Jr Tri-County Motor Speedway 20 3 15 17 439
10 David Wilson--R Hickory Motor Speedway 20 3 13 17 427
11 Marty Ward Greenville-Pickens Speedway 12 8 10 10 426
12 Mike Wallace I-80 Speedway 14 0 10 12 426
13 Jake Meier Dubuque Fairgrounds Speedway 16 1 5 11 423
14 Roger Powell Greenville-Pickens Speedway 12 2 12 12 420
15 Anthony Anders Greenville-Pickens Speedway 16 1 11 14 419
16 Jason Romero All American Speedway 13 4 8 12 406
17 Ryan Wilson Caraway Speedway 19 0 3 15 404
18 Andy Mercer Hickory Motor Speedway 11 10 11 11 400
19 Vito Ranuio The New Stockton 99 Speedway 17 4 9 15 394
20 Clint Benson I-80 Speedway 12 2 7 11 394
21 Tommy Lemons, Jr Motor Mile Speedway 14 3 6 6 389
22 Rip Michels Toyota Speedway At Irwindale 11 0 9 10 388
23 Juan Pitta All American Speedway 14 1 7 13 383
24 Andrew Kosiski I-80 Speedway 14 1 4 11 379
25 John Hightower Greenville-Pickens Speedway 12 1 9 11 377