Halfway Home: Championship Contenders Eye What's Needed to Secure 2022 Title
NORTH DAKOTA – As the calendar turns to July, the brush strokes on the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Models’ championship picture are becoming more transparent.
Through six months of competition, a veteran driver leads the field into the second half of the season, starting with the Series’ annual Upper-Midwest swing starting at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks, ND, July 15; all while trying to outrun two Rookie of the Year contenders who are hanging on to striking distance.
Dennis Erb Jr. has been the driver to beat this season after taking the points lead in March. However, despite his season-high four wins, it’s a position the Carpentersville, IL driver has never experienced.
While Erb and Crew Chief Heather Lyne take their quest for a championship one race at a time, their consistency has been essential to their journey.
“It’s a good feeling,” Erb said. “Obviously, it shows we’ve had a good start to the year. We’ve been consistent for the first half of the year, and things are rolling pretty good.”
The consistency Erb’s shown in the first 23 races has gone unmatched. He’s only finished outside the top 10 five times in 2022—earning a 148-point lead over Max Blair in second.
One reason he’s been able to extend his lead is his ability to bounce back. An example of that perseverance was at Jacksonville Speedway last month when he gained points on Blair, sneaking into the top 10 after a mid-pack Qualifying run.
“It just shows that we’re out there to win and get up front and that you can have a bad Qualifying run and still be able to work our way back up there,” Erb said. “It shows our car is good, and we’re able to drive up to where we need to be. So, it’s a good feeling to have.
“I hope it’ll be a big advantage. Those guys are also running good, too. When we get to a new place, sometimes it’s a learning curve. Hopefully, we can get back to these places that I’ve been to, and that definitely would help me.”
Blair has been one of Erb’s most formidable foes this season, scoring two wins in his quest for both Rookie of the Year and the 2022 Series title.
The Centerville, PA driver finds himself in a position he never expected as he embarks on his first journey with the World of Outlaws CASE Late Models.
“The year started out way better than I dreamed it would,” Blair said. “The last four or five races, we’ve struggled more than I would’ve like to. But I knew that was going to happen coming in. We’re going to so many new places, so we’re just trying day by day.”
Despite his successful start, Blair stated he knows there’s an uphill climb to steal the championship from Erb.
“You know what you have with him for sure,” Blair said. “He’s steady, consistent, and he’s always been that way. Even on the nights when we out-qualify him and outrun him in the Heat Race and start way in front of him, five to go, he’s under me and passing me for fifth.
“It’s going to be pretty tough to do. He’s got it stretched out a little bit, but that doesn’t mean we’re giving up either. We’re going to keep on trying.”
The race for the 2022 championship isn’t the only battle Blair faces this season, as he currently leads the chase for Rookie of the Year—22 points ahead of Tanner English. And while they’re trying to best each other, that hasn’t stopped them from building a friendship.
“It’s been fun; we’ve kind of become buddies,” Blair said. “He’s helped me out a couple of times when I needed stuff.”
English also finds himself in contention for both battles – currently 170 points behind Erb – despite being winless in World of Outlaws competition. However, points aren’t the Benton, KY driver’s focus. He only has one goal— win.
“The points come, but you’re trying to win every race anyway,” English said. “I hate losing, so I’m trying to win every race I go to. It’s not like we’re coming just to beat Dennis or beat Max.
“Most of the time, we know if we can just run up front, we can outrun them. We just need to put a whole night together and qualify good. I feel like we’ve been running the Feature good, but that’s about it. I haven’t put a whole night together yet.”
He knows what needs to improve to be able to do that, too.
“Just trying to get a front-row starting spot in the Heat Race is the main deal,” English said. “We’ve had a few here and there, just had some bad luck that knocked us out of starting up front.
“That’s the major improvement we need to do. If we get that done, we’ll be alright.”
Less than 25 events remain for Erb, Blair and English to further position themselves for the 2022 championship before the season ends at the World of Outlaws World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte, Nov. 2-5.
All three drivers return to add another brush stroke to their hopeful World of Outlaws CASE Late Models championship masterpiece. on July 15 at River Cities Speedway in Grand Forks, ND, followed by I-94 Sure Step Speedway on Saturday, July 16 and Red Cedar Speedway on Sunday, July 17.