After blowing tires, breaking internal components and a couple DNFs, Ashton Winger knew his luck on the DIRTcar Summer Nationals trail had to turn around some place at some point. Davenport Speedway was that place, and Wednesday night was that point for the Hell Tour championship contender.
In a span of the final 20 laps of the race, Winger, 23, of Senoia, GA, had passed polesitter Chad Simpson for the lead, lost it to his brother, Chris Simpson, then drove back by him to retake it with only four circuits left. Ripping the top side of the 1/4-mile, Winger held off the Simpson brothers to score the win – the seventh of his Summer Nationals career and first on tour since August 2021.
“This is my favorite racetrack,” Winger said. “This place is just so tough to get around, and it puts on really good racing 90 percent of the time.
“For me to be able to win at my favorite racetrack is really awesome.”
Winger started his run to glory from sixth on the starting grid, climbing up to third in only five laps. Directly ahead of him was Chris Simpson, who he put in the rearview with a slide job through Turns 3-4 on Lap 10.
A caution on Lap 20 restacked the field and gave Winger a chance at the leader on the restart, which he took full advantage of, digging down low underneath Chad Simpson through Turns 1-2 and taking the spot out of Turn 4.
“I think there was just a little bit more brown [dirt] leaving Turn 2 to catch when I got by Chad,” Winger said. “I just blew the bottom, honestly.”
Winger paced the field out front until the next restart with 11 laps left on the board, when Chris Simpson showed his hand down low with a powerful run off Turn 2 and into the lead down the backstretch.
“I figured [Winger] would go and try to protect the top,” Simpson said. “When I saw him slide across the middle in the crumbs, I knew if I hit the bottom in Turns 1-2 really good, I could get by him.”
Now at the head of the field, Chris Simpson became the proverbial sitting duck in the final laps. Though he initially gapped Winger with good speed on the bottom after taking the lead, Winger quickly looked to the high side for a way back around the native Iowan.
“I got up there and I felt where it latched,” Winger said. “It was kinda one of those 50/50 things where I was really glad I found it, but also when you find it – nature of the game, we’ve got stick signals.”
Winger shot back to the top lane through Turns 1-2 on Lap 36 and narrowly drove around Simpson, using what little room was available between Simpson’s right side and the edge of the track to complete the pass down the backstretch.
“It was only a matter of time until [Simpson’s] stick guy moved him up, and his stick guy moved him up literally 10 feet too late,” Winger said. “If he would’ve just laid his entry out getting into Turn 1, there’s nothing I could have done.”
“If I had just moved up a lap earlier, it would’ve been game-over,” Simpson said.
Winger kept the speed and momentum up around the high side and led the field back around to the checkers to collect a $5,000 check and his first Feature win of the 38th annual Summer Nationals campaign.
“When good things happen, I tend to look back at what’s got me here,” Winger said. “It’s just really good to have really good people.”
The win comes as the first for Jeff Mathews Motorsports on the Hell Tour – a team Winger joined late last season. The last time Winger ran an entire Summer Nationals schedule was in 2021, when he took every bit of his family-owned equipment out on the road and scored six wins over the two-month stretch. This time around, however, Winger’s feeling even more confident, despite a few early struggles.
“I think we started out better than we did in 2021, and I stand by that,” Winger said. “But at the same time, we feel like we should be better than we were in 21.
“I’m thankful and I’m lucky – I’m way better funded now than I was in 21. We have way more stuff that I need, thanks to Jeff Mathews and everybody involved in that deal down in Florida.”
Thursday’s originally scheduled visit to Spoon River Speedway in Lewistown, IL, has been canceled due to track equipment malfunctions deemed unrepairable before race day, leading DIRTcar and track officials to cancel the event.
The Summer Nationals Late Models and DIRTcar Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals pick the action back up Friday, June 23 at Brownstown Bullring in Brownstown, IL. Tickets will be on sale at the gate; streaming is available at DIRTVision.com.
ABBREVIATED RESULTS (view full results)
Feature (40 Laps): 1. 12-Ashton Winger; 2. 32S-Chris Simpson; 3. 25-Jason Feger; 4. 25S-Chad Simpson; 5. 99JR-Frank Heckenast Jr; 6. 4G-Bob Gardner; 7. 21J-Billy Moyer Jr; 8. 7-Drake Troutman; 9. 31AUS-Kye Blight; 10. 14M-Morgan Bagley; 11. 57-Carson Brown; 12. 58-Tyler Clem; 13. 30-Mark Voigt; 14. 15-Clayton Stuckey; 15. 5-Austin Vincent; 16. 99-Jeff Larson; 17. 21-Billy Moyer Sr; 18. 4D-Doug Tye; 19. 101-Forrest Trent; 20. 19X-Cody Bauer; 21. 21N-Logan Nickerson; 22. 15K-Justin Kay