BANNER, Ill. — The Castrol FloRacing Night in America visit to Spoon River Speedway on Wednesday night didn’t disappoint.
As race-long leader Bobby Pierce searched for the fastest way around the high-banked oval in the closing laps of Wednesday’s Illinois Speedweek opener, Dennis Erb Jr. didn’t have to think twice.
The quarter-mile oval that kicked off the four-race miniseries played right into Pierce’s high-flying ways for much of the 50-lap feature, but in the end, it was Erb’s steadiness around the bottom from the seventh-starting spot that led to the big check.
Leveraging patience around the very bottom of the Banner, Ill., bullring, Erb upended the pole-starting Pierce in the final stages of the event for a thrilling $23,023 victory.
While Pierce led 44 of the first 45 laps, it was Erb Jr. that led the final five laps to reap his first career national touring victory at Spoon River.
It’s Erb’s third career Spoon River victory, adding to triumphs with the Northern Allstars Late Model Series on Aug. 12, 2005 and DIRTcar Summer Nationals on June 23, 2016.
“I’ve always liked these longer races. Usually the longer it is, the better my car gets,” Erb said. “A little bit of moisture down there on the bottom, we took advantage of that tonight.”
The turning point Wednesday came right inside 10 laps to go, as Pierce’s 1.5-second lead and momentum around the top of the quarter-mile vanished when navigating lapped traffic.
Jonathan Davenport and Brian Shirley ran second for much of the main event before Erb quickly came onto the scene at the end.
After dispatching Shirley for second with 13 laps left, Erb caught the backpedaling Pierce five laps later, and pulled alongside the Oakwood, Ill., superstar at the line on lap 43. Erb narrowly led 44 by .091 seconds before Pierce countered around the top to barely lead lap 45.
“I knew he was going to go back up there,” Erb said of Pierce. “I was watching him, and he really couldn’t hook the bottom like I could. That was my shot there. Once I got out in front, I thought I could him off, use enough of the racetrack and momentum to keep things going.”
Erb finished Pierce off on lap 46, when the slower car of Ross Robinson stymied Pierce’s momentum. As Pierce let off the gas to avoid a collision, Erb rolled the bottom, and then to victory. Pierce ended up finishing 2.122 seconds behind.
“Yeah, I mean, (the lap 46 hiccup in traffic) definitely didn’t help me. But the lapped cars, you just have to work with them and try to pass them,” Pierce said. “I didn’t think he was going to move up that much. You want them to hold their lane, but it is what it is. Dennis was so quick on that bottom.
“Even if that didn’t happen (the lapped car holdup), I don’t know … Dennis was so quick down there. I’m glad we finished the race. Second is really good; it’s not really a heartbreak. It’s good for the points for this deal and everything. Got to keep plugging away at it. We have three more races. A lot of races coming up where we’re really good; tracks we’re really good at. Looking forward to it.”
Davenport, meanwhile, rounded out the podium in third.
“I just never gave up. We couldn’t steer very good to the bottom there,” Davenport said. “I was a little harder on the right-front tire than these other two cars. That might’ve helped a little bit, I don’t know. We just couldn’t get through the holes very good in three and four on the bottom. I just had to stay committed to the top. Luckily it stayed there just long enough.
“Once everybody started to leave the top there and started moving back to the bottom, the top got crummy again,” Davenport added. “It actually helped. There was a lot of traction in the crumbs. We started running through them and got back to them. I was hoping to sneak back up on them there, but Bobby moved back up about the same time I got there. Dennis was just really good on the bottom like he always is.”
Feature (50 Laps): 1. 28-Dennis Erb Jr; 2. 32-Bobby Pierce; 3. 49-Jonathan Davenport; 4. 3S-Brian Shirley; 5. 96V-Tanner English; 6. 1-Hudson O’Neal; 7. 19R-Ryan Gustin; 8. B5-Brandon Sheppard; 9. 11-Gordy Gundaker; 10. 12-Ashton Winger; 11. 5-Tim McCreadie; 12. 157-Mike Marlar; 13. 18J-Chase Junghans; 14. 7-Ross Robinson; 15. 10-Garrett Smith; 16. 99M-Devin Moran; 17. 33-Mike Harrison; 18. 7T-Drake Troutman; 19. 1T-Tyler Erb; 20. 15-Kolby Vandenbergh; 21. 18B-Shannon Babb; 22. 58-Garrett Alberson