NASCAR Cup Series Champion Alan Kulwicki once said, “In every aspect of life, have a game plan and do your best to achieve it.”
Dennis Erb Jr. knew he had to master Turns 1 and 2 if he wanted a gator. He wasted no time executing his game plan, thundering past Frank Heckenast Jr. in the middle of the Volusia Speedway Park surface.
It’s a lead he’d never relinquish—fending off challenges from Brandon Sheppard and Chase Junghans to score his first World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Models win of 2022 Friday night at DIRTcar Nationals.
“I mean, we were able to get the lead and roll off through that middle on the start,” Erb said. “We kept going real good and had a good start. After that, the car was working good, and we just had to keep hitting our marks and keep the rest of them behind us.”
The path toward his 10th career Series triumph in his 250th start wasn’t clear for the Late Model veteran. Erb and defending champion Brandon Sheppard gave the fans at “The World’s Fastest Half-Mile” an epic battle for the lead around the Feature’s halfway point.
The reigning champion swung high while Erb held his ground on the bottom, gaining enough momentum to pull ahead as a caution came out on Lap 25.
“I saw him out there and started to get a little worried,” Erb said. “I started to try and carry a little more speed through [Turns} 1 and 2. I knew [Sheppard] was pretty much committed up there, so I knew if I could beat him on the bottom, we were in pretty good shape.”
Sheppard faded to fourth at the checkered flag. The four-time Series champion stated he stayed on the top side of the racetrack for too long after Erb pulled away.
“[Erb] was swinging out a little bit wider after he knew I was there,” Sheppard said. “I stayed out there a little bit too long after he got out there ahead of me. I should’ve moved down behind him and kept my left rear tire underneath me.
“Instead, I stayed a little too long, and then I overheated it. I was trying to move around, and it wasn’t as good. After a couple of guys got by me, I was able to get down there and cool my left rear tire off, and I drove back to them.”
Sheppard wasn’t the only driver who tried to dethrone Erb from the lead. Chase Junghans quickly closed on the top spot in the final laps but fell short.
The Manhattan, KS driver used patience early in the race before unleashing speed toward the end.
“I just bided my time and tried not to blow my tires off this thing and keep it under me,” Junghans said. “Those lap cars kind of got in the way at the end, but that’s how it goes. Luckily, we’re just up here getting interviewed.”
Once Junghans saw Sheppard’s line ahead of him, his decision to go to the outside paid off, leading to his first podium finish of the season.
“I saw Sheppard running the top, and I was like kind of pinching the corner on the bottom,” Junghans said. “So, I said screw it, I’ll go up there, and kind of follow him. I chose his line a little bit, but I’d kind of turn off the top and try to drive straight down the hill, and it seemed like that’s where I’d gain a bunch of ground.”
Three-time Series Champion Darrell Lanigan finished third for the second straight night. The Union, KY driver’s car came to life in the final 15 laps, leading him to another top three.
“We just gave it all we got,” Lanigan said. “We had a little bit of a chance there, and it was coming back to us a little bit. We just got up on the wheel and tried to make something happen.
“I just can’t run where I want to on the racetrack yet, and if we get our car right, I think we’ll be able to run up front.”
Dale McDowell, the leading World of Outlaws CASE Late Models winner in 2022, rounded out the top five.
Dennis Erb Jr.’s game plan worked to perfection Friday night, proving a good start can lead to glory on the racetrack. It’s a start that could position him toward a run at a championship at the end of the season.
UP NEXT: The battle for the “Big Gator” trophy ends Saturday night at Volusia Speedway Park in a 40 lap, $10,000-to-win finale. For Tickets: CLICK HERE. The Super DIRTcar Series will also hand out a “Big Gator.”
Devin Moran leads the DIRTcar Nationals standings—37 points ahead of Chris Madden. McDowell and Sheppard are tied for third—54 points behind Moran.
Madden is currently the World of Outlaws CASE Late Models point leader—10 points ahead of Dale McDowell.
CASE Construction Equipment Feature (40 Laps): 1. 28-Dennis Erb Jr; 2. 18-Chase Junghans; 3. 29-Darrell Lanigan; 4. 1-Brandon Sheppard; 5. 17M-Dale McDowell; 6. 44-Chris Madden; 7. 16-Tyler Bruening; 8. 71-Hudson O’Neal; 9. 25-Shane Clanton; 10. 9-Devin Moran; 11. 99JR-Frank Heckenast Jr; 12. 81E-Tanner English; 13. 6-Nick Hoffman; 14. 20RT-Ricky Thornton Jr; 15. 11-Gordy Gundaker; 16. 157-Mike Marlar; 17. 111V-Max Blair; 18. 99B-Boom Briggs; 19. 1R-Josh Richards; 20. 45-Kyle Hammer; 21. 89-Ashton Winger; 22. 46-Earl Pearson Jr; 23. 3S-Brian Shirley; 24. 25B-Mike Benedum; 25. B1-Brent Larson; 26. 11H-Spencer Hughes; 27. 10-Garrett Smith; 28. 76-Brandon Overton; 29. 33M-Michael Norris; 30. 19R-Ryan Gustin FOX FACTORY HARD CHARGER: Gordy Gundaker [+15]