GRANITE CITY, Ill. — The last time Tyler Erb took the white flag at Tri-City Speedway, he never made it to the checkers.
The New Waverly, Texas, driver made sure that wasn’t a problem Thursday at the 3/8-mile oval as he edged away from runner-up Mike Marlar late, completing the final circuit without issue for a $12,000 victory and second straight on the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series.
The pole-starting Erb pulled away from a mid-race battle with fellow front-row starter Jimmy Owens of Newport, Tenn., regaining the lead for good on the 30th lap and leading the rest of the Hoker Trucking Best in the Business 50.
The high-running Erb kept the low-running Mike Marlar in check in the final laps for redemption over last month’s wild finish in DIRTcar Summer Nationals when revenge-seeking Kyle Bronson sent the leading Erb’s car hard into the concrete wall between turns three and fourth on the final lap.
“The last four laps I kind of just let it go for broke,” Erb said in victory lane. “About a month ago here I was in the same position, and just wasn’t going to put myself in that position again. I appreciate Mikey racing me clean, and Jimmy. That was probably a really exciting race — I know it was from my point of view.”
Marlar, of Winfield, Tenn., maintained a hot streak with a runner-up finish while Tim McCreadie of Watertown, N.Y., finished third. Owens, who led the first 22 laps and for a few more laps battling Erb midway through the 50-lapper, slipped back to finish fourth while previous two-time series winner at Tri-City Earl Pearson Jr. of Jacksonville, Fla., rounded out the top five.
Series points leader Jonathan Davenport of Blairsville, Ga., had a rough night, struggling to a seventh-place finish in his heat race, tagging the tail of the feature after prerace power steering problems and then smashing the wall exiting turn four on the 41st lap while running sixth. He retired with an 18th-place finish, his second-worst series finish of the season.
Owens ran virtually unchallenged over the first 20 laps while Erb survived an early scrape with McCreadie in turn one that left the eventual winner with minor left-rear damage.
Things got interesting on the lap-20 restart with Marlar pressuring his longtime buddy Owens on the low side while Erb got rolling on the high side. Erb was eager to run the high side, but leery of jumping up there too soon.
“(Tri-City) kind of reminds me of Greenville, Miss., a little bit, one of my favorite tracks. You’re on the edge of climbing the wall and just riding right against it,” Erb said. “I really just wanted to not to that the first 20 or 30 laps. Those restarts, the first restart I went up (to the top) and was good. It’s hard for me to slow back down once I get up there.”
Erb swept into the lead on the 23rd lap, leading four circuits before Owens got rolling again down low to edge ahead. They swapped the lead for four consecutive laps with Erb finally taking control for good on lap 30.
“I kind of was kicking myself (for losing the lead) when Jimmy got by me,” Erb said. “When I knew Mikey was behind me, I knew it was going to be tough. I could see him underneath me, I don’t know for how many laps, (Marlar) and Jimmy both, they were underneath me there. … I’m just excited. I love racing and this is what it’s all about.”
Marlar hugged the infield in the corners but couldn’t find enough to get under Erb in the final laps.
“It was an awesome racetrack. You could get whatever you wanted. I actually ran the outside a little bit during the middle part of the race. I just felt like my car worked better on the bottom,” the runner-up said. “It was an awesome racetrack. I’ve always enjoyed coming here, just never had anything go my way here. I’m glad to come here tonight and get the monkey off our back and run good.”
Five cautions slowed the action, most significantly for Davenport’s accident with nine laps remaining.
The final caution appeared on the 45th lap when 11th-running Kyle Bronson broke an axle and pulled into the infield.
The first three yellows were for minor, single-car incidents. The first yellow appeared on the second lap for Tim Manville, who had to have his hood duct-taped to his car. Another caution appeared on the 18th lap when Josh Richards slowed with a folded-down nosepiece and headed to the hot pit for repairs.
The third and final yellow appeared on lap 20 when Michael Norris, the substitute Clint Bowyer Racing driver, got into the turn-two wall and retired.
Notes: Erb, making just his second Tri-City appearance, notched his fifth series victory of the season and sixth of his career. … He celebrated the victory with donuts before heading to victory lane. … Runner-up Mike Marlar was debuting a new Rocket Chassis; he spent the week at longtime race sponsor Ed Petroff’s Caseyville, Ill., shop not far from Tri-City to prepare his new car. … Hall of Famer Rick Eckert of York, Pa., piloting Texan Allen Murray’s car, finished 13th in the first of four starts this week. … The series runs another $12,000-to-win event Friday. … Fourteen drivers completed 50 laps and 16 were running at the finish. … The feature ended about 10:15 p.m.