LINCOLN, Ill. — Dennis Erb Jr. appeared well on his way to stinking up Thursday’s Castrol FloRacing Night in America feature at Lincoln Speedway. But Brandon Sheppard made sure fans got their money’s worth at the quarter-mile fairgrounds oval hosting the richest event in track history.
Furiously cutting Erb’s three-second lead with 10 laps remaining to mere tenths of a second in the final laps, Sheppard’s Hail Mary charge pushed Erb to the limit in a thrilling finish that saw Erb hang on by a half-second to secure a $22,022 paycheck for the second-richest victory of his career.
"We were just trying to finish it off there,” the Carpentersville, Ill., winner said in victory lane.
“We did what we could,” the runner-up from New Berlin, Ill., said a moment later.
Sheppard nearly pulled alongside Erb exiting turn two on the final lap, but his Rocket Chassis house car caught the backstretch fence and allowed Erb to escape in the 50-lap feature that marked the second round of an Illinois Speedweek that has drawn more than 50 entrants from over 20 states.
Pole-starting Garrett Alberson of Las Cruces, N.M., who led the first four laps before Erb took command, finished third for Iowa-based Roberts Motorsports with Chris Simpson of Oxford, Iowa, and another Las Cruces driver, Stormy Scott, rounding out the top five.
A hub-running Alberson led from the outset, but Erb’s middle groove carried him into the lead as he pulled away from his pursuers, building a three-second lead before a lap-20 caution. Sheppard took the second spot on the restart, but Erb again built a huge lead while running successfully in any groove he chose.
Sheppard made up ground with 15 laps remaining as Erb faced a pack of slower cars, but Erb stretched his margin back to three seconds with 10 laps remaining and the race seemed all but over.
But with Erb continuing to face heavy traffic, Sheppard turned up the wick and nearly caught Erb in the closing laps, thrilling home-state fans watching the Prairie State drivers duke it out.
Erb seemed to downplay Sheppard’s charge, but of course he hadn’t seen the video before his victory lane interview.
“I didn't know who was back there, you know. I mean, I was just concentrating on hitting my marks,” Erb said. “The car was pretty good where we were rolling through there, just trying to get through the lapped traffic smoothly. We had a good night tonight and I was able to keep this thing up front and had a real good car and it really didn't matter. We were just trying to finish it off there.”
Sheppard said he struggled with steering for much of the race before finally getting his blue No. 1 rolling.
"About 10 laps to go I finally found the line that I needed to run in (turns) one and two, and that was the key to getting me up there a little bit,” Sheppard said. “I don't know if we had the wrong tire on or what, but I couldn't steer very good through (turns) three and four really. But all in all, a pretty good night. Congratulations to Dennis. He did a really good job there.
“We were right there, man. We just, I don't know ... I wish I would have found my line in (turns) one and two a little quicker. But it was definitely treacherous up there. Another great night at Lincoln. (Promoter Bob Sargent has) got the track really good again — we did what we could.”
Two cautions slowed the action.
The first appeared on the seventh lap when Mike Marlar and Ricky Thornton Jr. got tangled up in turn two. On the 21st lap, Cade Dillard spun in turn two just in front of the leading Erb, who slipped by unscathed.
Illinois Speedweek continues with two more events with the sanctioning body switching from the Castrol tour to the MARS Racing Series. Farmer City Raceway hosts a $15,000-to-win event Friday and Fairbury Speedway caps the week with a $30,000-to-win finale on Saturday with many of the same competitors in action.
Notes: Erb notched his fourth overall victory of 2022. … The World of Outlaws Case Late Model Series points leader won for just the second time in his career at Lincoln; his only other victory came in a weekly event on Aug. 26, 2006. … Erb notched his fourth career victory of $20,000 or more; his others came last year in WoO action at Jackson, Minn. ($20,000), in the 2016 National 100 at East Alabama Motor Speedway in Phenix City ($20,000) and Eldora Speedway’s 2016 Dream (a career-high $100,000 payday). … Seventh-running Tyler Erb headed pitside during a lap-21 caution to replace a flat tire. …Ashton Winger’s night ended early after a first-lap heat collision with Tanner English. Winger angrily flung his steering wheel at English’s car when his rival drove past the turn-four site of the incident under caution. …. Among other drivers failing to make the feature lineup: Bobby Pierce, Spencer Hughes, Tony Jackson Jr., Josh Putnam, Rich Bell, Kyle Hammer, Morgan Bagley, Ryan Gustin, Jake Timm and Jason Feger.