CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. — Everything was going Ashton Winger's way in Saturday's 40-lap DIRTcar Summer Nationals feature at Clarksville Speedway — until there were four sideways cars literally in his way.
Suddenly, the 21-year-old Hampton, Ga., driver's potential flag-to-flag victory had some serious problems as his No. 12 came upon two pairs of tangled cars in turn four and barely a car's width of room to slip between them.
"At the last second, I seen them guys split a little bit and I thought I would get whoa'd up without shifting my front end. And I did. You probably couldn't have stuck a piece of paper between me on both sides," Winger said of his move executed as the yellow flag flew with him leading on the 12th lap.
"Our car is just balanced, you know. If you've got a car that's not very stuck to the center of the corner, it's pretty hard to do that," Winger said. "Pretty much all that was going through my mind was 'Oh crap!' so I'm glad it all worked out."
The survival move and dominating performance the rest of the way on the red-clay quarter-mile oval paid $10,000 and his fourth series victory for the driver tackling the grueling tour for the first time. He took the checkered flag 1.682 seconds over series points leader Bobby Pierce of Oakwood, Ill., who has finished second in all four of Winger's victories.
The eighth-starting Pierce outdueled fellow former series champion Dennis Erb Jr. of Carpentersville, Ill., for second as Erb briefly held the second spot on two occasions after starting sixth. Fast qualifier Tanner English of Benton, Ky., and Joe Godsey of Edinburgh, Ind., who was second the first five laps before being shuffled back on a restart, rounded out the top five.
Winger voiced his reservations about the racetrack earlier in the night, and even after his victory hadn't really changed his mind — "I mean, it's all right," was the most positive thing he could come up with on the record — but Clarksville helped him continue a hot streak of five straight podium finishes on the tour, three victories in his last five tour starts and four victories overall.
He credits his father Gary Winger and cousin Will for their crew work to whip his race car into shape.
"My dad and Will, like I said, went to work and our car got better. I really felt like we were going to win some races earlier in the year, whether it was going to be on the Hell Tour or not, and they got away from me. Then I had some motor trouble — and I've been doing some dumb stuff," Winger said. "On this Hell Tour, I started on the front row a couple of times, and honestly, I just didn't do a good job, you know what I'm saying? And then it got to the point where we all started clicking and jelling and me and my dad sat down and we had a serious conversation about what it takes to win these races, even if they are 40 laps.
"It's hard to win a 20-lap race, so if you are to tell me I'd have won four races, especially after Fayette County when I started next to (Brandon Sheppard) and run like seventh, man, I'd have told you that you were a liar. Luckily we have eight or nine more of (Summer Nationals races) to go, so hopefully we can shoot for 12 or 13 (victories)."
Pierce had his best-ever series performance at Clarksville, but he couldn't track down Winger despite getting up to the second spot in the second half of the race.
"For us, tonight feels like a win, for sure, for how the night started," Pierce said. "We were terrible in qualifying and not the best in the heat race and I think we made some right calls with the setup and the car was really good."
Pierce was trying different lines in trying to catch Winger but congrataulated the winner: "He's been really fast lately," he said. "We've been going 1-2 a lot, back and forth. I guess he's the guy and we've gotta stay ahead of him."
Besides the lap-12 wreck Winger avoided yet another multicar incident early in the race required a red-flag cleanup on a track where dust that kicked up from a dry infield made vision difficult.
The first red-flag period came on the seventh lap for a backstretch scramble involving Robert Ardry, David Seibers, Jadon Frame and Larry Barber Jr. The backstretch was virtually blocked by the aftermath with Frame's machine getting the worst of it, forcing him to retire.
The 12th-lap red flag tangle included Ardry, Michael Seibers, Steven Stehle and Brandon Lance.
The race was slowed six times in all, including a caution on the initial start when John Minon ended up against the frontstretch wall after dust enveloped the rear of the field.
The second caution appeared on the fifth lap when Michael Seibers — who elected to start on the tail — pulled up in turn two. A lap-12 caution appeared on a restart when Joe Denby's car didn't fire, causing a stackup on the restart.
The final caution appeared on 28th lap for Denby's spin inside turn four that set off a brief fracas.
During the caution period, Denby pulled back onto the track going the wrong direction on the frontstretch and nosed into the car of the fourth-running English in apparent retaliation.
English's crew member Brock Pettit, stationed in the infield, threw one of his signal sticks at Denby's car and then approached the No. 27 before promoter William Scogin forcefully grabbed Pettit by his shoulders to pull him back toward the infield and shoo others away from the scene.
Many from the packed grandstands scurried to frontstretch fence to get a closer look at the fireworks. Denby was disqualified.
The series heads to Kentucky for two consecutive events, Sunday at Richmond Raceway and Monday at Burnside's Lake Cumberland Speedway, both first-time series tracks hosting $5,000-to-win events.
Notes: A dozen cars finished on the lead lap.. ... Tour rookie Thomas Hunziker of Bend, Ore., finished 10th for his best career tour performance. ... Bobby Pierce's runner-up finish was the best of his career at Clarksville, where his father and crew chief Bob Pierce won in his debut (2001 in the Summer Nationals) but didn't have much luck afterward. "He's never been any good here," the elder Pierce said just before the feature. "And I can't really help him because I wasn't very good here either." ... One gentleman came up to track promoter William Scogin during undercard action and told him that "if I don't see you again later, I just want to thank you for starting everybody in the Late Model feature." For starting more than the minimum 22 cars, Scogin shrugged: "It's only money."
Row 1: Ashton Winger, Joe Godsey
Row 2: Tanner English, Jadon Frame
Row 3: Josh, Putnam, Dennis Erb Jr.
Row 4: Matt Cooper, Bobby Pierce
Row 5: Gavin Schmidt, David Seibers
Row 6: Levi Ashby, Mitch McGrath
Row 7: Richard Frost, Robert Ardry
Row 8: Caleb Ashby, John Minon
Row 9: Michael Seibers, Joe Denby
Row 10: MIke Fenton, Thomas Hunziker
Row 11: Larry Greer, Steven Stehle
Row 12: Larry Barber Jr., Jeff Roth
Row 13: Brandon Lance, Tim Lance Jr.
In the redraw among heat winners, Ashton Winger is on the pole position with Joe Godsey outside the front row. Tanner English starts third. ... Officials scrapped the Late Model consolation and will start all cars that are in position to start. ... Mitch McGrath's prelims were rough from the start when he missed hot laps. In the third heat, he was involved in multiple scrapes, spinning after help from Caleb Ashby, taking a dusty infield foray and then again spinning with Ashby getting a piece of him as he went past. ... Richard Frost spun twice on the first lap of the first heat to trigger two restarts, but successfully started the third time and transferred with the fifth and final transfer spot. ... Joe Denby initially lost his qualifying time via disqualification because his transmission locked up and he wasn't able to go across the scales, but because officials at the scales had told him he wouldn't lose his time. DIRTcar decided to restore him to an equitable starting position (put inside the third row in the same heat he wouldn't started the tail on so officials wouldn't have to rework each heat lineup).
Heat race results
(10 laps; top five transfer)
First heat: Tanner English, Jadon Frame, Matt Cooper, David Seibers, Richard Frost, John Minon, Mike Fenton, Steven Stehle, Brandon Lance.
Second heat: Ashton Winger, Josh Putnam, Bobby Pierce, Levi Ashby, Robert Ardry, Michael Seibers, Thomas Hunziker, Larry Barber Jr. Scratched: Tim Lance Jr.
Third heat: Joe Godsey, Dennis Erb Jr., Gavin Schmidt, Mitch McGrath, Caleb Ashby, Joe Denby, Larry Gree. Scratched: Jeff Roth.
Driver (car no.), hometown, time (unofficial)
- Tanner English (81E), Benton, Ky., 12.130
- Ashton Winger (12), Hampton, Ga., 12.266
- Joe Godsey (14G), Edinburgh, Ind., 12.410
- Jadon Frame (J8), Decherd, Tenn., 12.547
- Josh Putnam (212), Florence, Ala., 12.561
- Gavin Schmidt (19), Cumberland Furnace, Tenn., 12.628
- Matt Cooper (18), McKenzie, Tenn., 12.630
- Levi Ashby (1A), Cumberland Furnace, Tenn., 12.644
- Dennis Erb Jr. (28), Carpentersville, Ill., 12.662
- Richard Frost (15), Clarksville, Tenn., 12.689
- Joe Denby (27), Tullahoma, Tenn., 12.692
- Bobby Pierce (32), Oakwood, Ill., 12.710
- Mitch McGrath (74), Waukesha, Wis., 12.726
- David Seibers (18), Chapel Hill, Tenn., 12.730
- Thomas Hunziker (38), Bend, Ore., 12.783
- Caleb Ashby (61), Cunningham, Tenn., 12.872
- John Minon (74), Adams, Tenn., 13.146
- Michael Seibers (18), Chapel Hill, Tenn., 13.152
- Larry Greer (9G), Bowling Green, Ky., 13.293
- Mike Fenton (118), Oak Leaf, Texas, 13.318
- Robert Ardry (127), LaVergne, Tenn., 13.430
- Jeff Roth (14R), Bentonville, Ark., 13.508
- Steven Stehle (01), Pleasant View, Tenn., 13.525
- Larry Barber Jr. (54jr), Hopkinsville, Ky., 13.629
- Brandon Lance (248), Brimfield, Ill., no time
- Tim Lance Jr. (148), Brimfield, Ill., no time
6 p.m. - Drivers' meeting
6:15 p.m. - On-track activity
- Factory stock hot laps/time trials
- Pure mini hot laps/time trials
- Late Model hot laps
- Modified hot laps/time trials
- Street stock hot laps/time trials
- 604 Crate hot laps/time trials
- Mini mod hot laps/time trials
- 602 Crate hot laps/time trials
- Late Model time trials (2 laps)
- Mod lite hot laps/time trials
- B-mod hot laps/time trials
- Factory stock feature (12 laps)
- Late Model heats (10 laps)
- Modified heats (8 laps)
- B-mod feature (12 laps)
- Pure mini feature (12 laps)
- 604 Crate feature (12 laps)
- Street stock feature (12 laps)
- Late Model consolation (10 laps)
- Modified consolation (10 laps)
- 602 Crate feature (12 laps)
- Mini mod feature (12 laps)
- Mod life feature (12 laps)
- Modified feature (25 laps)
- Late Model feature (40 laps)