Jason Feger Scores First Tour Win of 2018 at I-96 Speedway
LAKE ODESSA, MI (July 12) — The victory Jason Feger badly needed on the DIRTcar Summer Nationals came with just a couple races to spare.
With the Hell Tour winding down to its final nights, the 40-year-old driver from Bloomington, IL, came alive on the inside of the track to overtake Billy Moyer of Batesville, AR, for the lead on lap 36 and then held on to finally score his first series triumph of 2018 in Thursday night’s 40-lap Dan Salay Memorial at I-96 Speedway.
Not surprisingly, Feger let out an enormous sigh of relief after shaking off his month-long struggles to pocket $5,070 — a total that included an extra $70 because the feature offered $14-per-circuit in lap-leader bonuses — for his first Summer Nationals win since July 9, 2017, at Kickapoo Speedway in Danville, IL.
“It’s definitely been a long Summer Nationals,” Feger said while sipping a celebratory beer and still wearing his driver’s uniform nearly an hour after the checkered flag. “It’s been a long summer, period. We’ve been in a pretty good drought here and it feels good to finally get the monkey off our back.
“The last couple days we had some bad luck and weren’t very good and kind of got down. I was starting to think we weren’t gonna get one. And I don’t think I’d have believed you if you told me I was gonna get one here tonight, especially as bad as we qualified and after we weren’t really that good in the heat race, but we got it done.”
When Feger passed Moyer for the top spot in the waning circuits, it marked the first lap he had led in this year’s 22 Summer Nationals A-mains. He wasn’t about to give it up, though he certainly didn’t waltz uncontested to victory lane.
Rusty Schlenk, a native of Jackson, MI, who now lives in McClure, OH, charged around the extreme outside of the 4/10-mile oval to make a final, furious bid for the race’s top prize. But he slipped over the cushion in turns three and four on the last circuit, allowing Moyer to beat him to the finish line for the runner-up spot, 0.755 of a second behind Feger.
Schlenk settled for a third-place finish, a mere 0.073 of a second in arrears of Moyer. Frank Heckenast Jr. of Frankfort, IL, who was in the late-race battle for the lead as well, finished fourth — his fourth consecutive top-five finish on the Summer Nationals — and Rich Bell of Sheffield, IL, placed fifth after slipping past Travis Stemler of Ionia, MI, and presumptive Hell Tour champion Brian Shirley of Chatham, IL, over the final nine laps.
Feger started seventh, his expectations for contention tempered because his XR1 Rocket machine’s performance hadn’t impressed him earlier in the program. But the car he had for the 40-lapper clearly had improved from qualifying and heat-race action.
As the polesitting Schlenk and fifth-starting Moyer battled at the front of the pack early — Schlenk led laps 1-8 and 10-12, with Moyer nosing ahead on lap nine before gaining control long-term on lap 13 — Feger clawed forward. The 2010 Summer Nationals champion took third from Heckenast on a lap-five restart and began challenging Schlenk for second after a lap-15 caution period.
“We were good in the feature there,” Feger said. “We’ve been better when the track slicks off, and we made some adjustments. I guess that’s part of not being good early — we can make some decent adjustments before the feature. It’s kind of like you know you don’t really have anything to lose because you know you don’t have a car to win, so we kind of took a swing the other way.
“We’ve been struggling this year but we keep taking swings at it, and maybe we might have stumbled on a little something tonight for the feature.”
Feger actually went against the grain with his approach during the race’s second half, sticking primarily to the very inside of the track rather than living up to his Highside Hustler nickname.
“I felt like I was good through the middle,” Feger said. “I never really had to go to the top, but the couple times I went up there I felt decent and could maintain with Rusty and I wasn’t even really pushing that hard.
“I was just really good down there (running the bottom) and kept plugging away,” he continued. “That’s definitely not my speciality, but when I could hit my marks right in (turns) three and four I felt really good. It was just a really fine line of being able to hit ‘em and not ‘em — and I really like charging the corner so it’s hard for me to get whoahed up to hit it right, but I was able to do it enough to pull out a win.”
Feger’s moment of truth came after the race’s fourth and final caution flag flew on lap 31. Sitting in second place, he had to decide whether to take the inside or outside lane for the Delaware double-file restart.
“I was really torn on the restart there,” said Feger, who moved past the absent Shannon Babb of Moweaqua, IL, for second in the Summer Nationals points standings. “I was real worried on that last restart because the time before (Schlenk) got a really good start and was able to challenge for four or five laps on that outside before we kind of got rolling again. I was actually gonna choose the outside and my guys were up there (outside the track) flipping out, going crazy and telling me to take the bottom, so I thought they must have seen something I didn’t.
“I really thought the only chance I was gonna have was to go around the outside of Billy. I thought he was probably gonna protect the bottom a little bit more. I don’t know if he was just too tight to get down there or what, but I had enough room to get by him.”
Indeed, Feger stayed smooth and steady on the inside and surged ahead of Moyer as lap 36 was scored, giving his victory an extra flourish.
“He’s one of the best to race with. He always races you clean,” Feger said of Moyer. “He’s definitely one of the best ever and we’ve been fortunate enough to race with him quite a few times over the years, especially on this (Summer Nationals) deal. It’s even better when you get to beat him because it doesn’t happen that often.”
Moyer couldn’t keep up with Feger, though, after losing second to Schlenk on lap 37, he snatched the position back off the final corner when Schlenk bobbled in the cushion.
“This is a different car we wanted to play with a little bit and we couldn’t get going all night,” said Moyer, who pulled out a Moyer Victory Race Car he hadn’t raced since last year. “It surprised me we come through there the way we did.
“Last night it (his other car) was going away bad (in the final laps though he held on to score his 100th career Summer Nationals win at Thunderbird Raceway in Muskegon, MI). Our tire situation here … something’s going on we gotta look at. It just wasn’t good there at the end (again).”
The 60-year-old Moyer complimented Feger’s run, however.
“Jason, he needed one for sure,” Moyer said. “He done a good job tonight. His car was pretty darn good there.”
Schlenk, meanwhile, fell short of gaining his first win of the 2018 Summer Nationals. His C.J. Rayburn-built mount simply wasn’t fast enough during extended green-flag stretches.
“Every time that right-rear would fire I’d just get way too tight,” Schlenk said. “So under caution … man, I just tried getting them tires as cool as I could running through the water and stuff down in the infield. I knew if I had four- or five- or six-lap runs, I was better than everybody because I could steer.
“I knew we had a shot at it that last run (following the lap-31 restart), but that run was a little bit too long for me. I needed a caution there with about three to go. I found a line there at the endand I was actually reeling them back in a little bit. If we’d have had two more laps I think I could’ve gave Feger a run for his money, but it was the white-flag lap so I just drove it into three as deep as I could and there wasn’t nothing to hold me down there so I drove off the top and let Moyer back by me.
“But I’ll take it,” he added. “We finally got this monkey off our back I think and we’re running good and competing for wins.”
Feature Finish: Jason Feger, Billy Moyer, Rusty Schlenk, Frank Heckenast Jr, Rich Bell, Brandon Thirilby, Travis Stemler, Logan Amtz, Brian Shirley, Dona Marcoullier, Eric Spangler, Garrett Wiles, Mike Spatola, David Mielke, Nick Kurtz, Kevin Reeve, Paul Stubber, Jake Rendel, Jason Playter Jr, Scott Fisk, Chuck Hummer, Gordy Gundaker, Bob Mayer
The DIRTcar Summer Nationals will be at Oakshade Raceway (OH) for the 4th round of Champions Week presented by VP Racing Fuels. See the complete schedule at the helltour.com/schedule. Follow @SummerNationals on Twitter or Facebook for updates during and between race seasons. The DIRTcar Late Models will be joined by the DIRTcar UMP Modifieds as the Summit Racing Equipment Modified Nationals runs parallel to the DIRTcar Summer Nationals. Information on the Modifieds can be found at modifiednationals.com.