GRANITE CITY, Ill. — Tony Jackson Jr. turned back seemingly countless challenges from Dennis Erb Jr. and Chris Simpson over the last half of Friday’s UMP DIRTcar Summernationals feature at Tri-City Speedway. He couldn’t stop the last one.
Erb made his car stick in the middle groove on the last lap, allowing him to slip around the low-running Jackson exiting turn four and giving the Carpentersville, Ill., driver $10,000 and his 21st career series victory.
Erb won by less than a length — eight-hundredths of a second according to transponders — to deny Jackson his first series victory after leading 39 laps from outside the front row.
“It must’ve been fun for everybody else, and not really for me,” Erb said after thrilling fans at the 3/8-mile oval. “We were working him pretty hard there.
“We were rolling real good in that middle there before that (lap-20) caution came out, and I just knew once the car kept going and I got heat in the tires, we were doing all right in the middle. (The surface) started getting a little dirty coming off (turn) four there, but I had to do something on that last lap.”
Erb had made high- and low-side bids on Jackson over the final 15 laps, while Simpson took a couple of shots at Jackson as well. The Lebanon, Mo., driver regretted sticking with the low groove virtually all race long.
“I needed to move up,” Jackson said. “but it’s one of them deals when you lead 39 of 40 laps on the bottom, you hate to get out of your groove.”
Erb and Jackson both slid higher than usual in turn four on the final lap, and Erb’s higher side momentum carried him to victory with Simpson, of Oxford, Iowa, just eight-tenths of a second behind in third. Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, Ill., and series points leader Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., rounded out the top five finishers.
“I knew it was a tight battle, and I knew there late in the race we’d have people coming up behind us,” Erb said “It just all worked out for us tonight.”
While Jackson broke into the early lead, polesitter Tim Manville held the second spot 17 of the first 18 laps with Simpson, Babb and Pierce among drivers in a dogfight behind the frontrunners.
Manville’s flat tire on lap 20 knocked him from contention and brought out the race’s lone yellow as Jackson led the field back to green with Simpson and the seventh-starting Erb hot on his heels. Pierce briefly rode the high groove into the fourth position, but Babb took it right back on lap 24 as things continued to heat up among the leaders.
Simpson and then Erb and then Simpson and then Erb took their shots at Jackson, who managed to maintain the lead even with the top three all within a few lengths during the final 10 laps. Erb summoned his best charge for the final laps, nearly pulling alongside Jackson on the backstretch before rolling around him in turns three and four before winning the dash to the checkers.
FEATURE RESULTS: 1.Dennis Erb Jr.; 2. Tony Jackson Jr.; 3. Chris Simpson; 4. Shannon Babb; 5. Bobby Pierce; 6. Billy Moyer; 7. Billy Moyer Jr.; 8. Ryan Unzicker; 9. Brian Shirley; 10. Jason Feger; 11. Brent Larson; 12. Michael Kloos; 13. Dustin Nobbe; 14. Bob Gardner; 15. Billy Laycock; 16. Gordy Gundaker; 17. Rusty Gundaker; 18. Rickey Frankel; 19. Jeremy Sneed; 20. Tim Manville; 21. Kolby Vandenbergh; 22. Rob Mayea.