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Manteca rookie Gomes takes checkers at New 99

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POSTED September 9, 2009 11:23 p.m.
Last Saturday’s 150-lap main event for the Western Late Models at the New Stockton 99 Speedway produced seven yellow cautions, one red flag stoppage, some controversial officiating and a boat load of fun for those watching.

A strong field of 19 cars took the opening green flag with Stockton veteran Joey Stearns and third generation driver Nic Belletto, of Modesto, leading the way. Belletto, Stearns, Stockton’s Vito Ranuio and Nic’s uncle Jeff Belletto, of Modesto, all took turns on the point for the first 120 laps before things got even more interesting.

After several clean restarts Stearns held the lead as Manteca rookie Jake Gomes attempted to chase him down. Following another caution on lap 121 Gomes pushed  Stearns high up the track in turn # 4 and both cars made contact sending Stearns careening down the front stretch and coming to rest against the inside wall in turn one.

Track officials decided Gomes was not at fault and was allowed to hold his position at the front of the pack.  On the restart Gomes would grab the lead and never look back as he crossed the stripes for his second win of the season and the all-important Tri-Holiday Classic Championship. Greg Potts of Stockton came from deep in the field to finish a close second followed by Ranuio.

“I don’t know what happened on the front stretch. We hit every time down the front stretch and he must have turned left harder on that last restart, but I don’t know what happened,” explained the sixteen year old Gomes afterward.

Stearns had a very different take on the incident.

"I gave him three clean restarts, and I guess he didn't like getting beat. You would think if you take out the leader, you would be sent to the back."

Overall this season with his combined results from Madera, Stockton and All American Raceway in Roseville, Gomes has posted three wins and 18 top fives in 30 starts to earn the sixth position in the latest NASCAR Whelen All American Series standings for California.

Tracy’s Justin Philpott finished 15th after crashing out on lap 97 but still holds a virtually insurmountable 1,151 to 911 lead over his father and former two time track champion David Philpott.

It will be Budweiser Night at the 99 this Saturday with the Western Late Models plus double points for the Grand Americans, Street Stocks and Bombers.

Veteran pilot Mike Mendenhall of Santee held off the repeated challenges of Frazier Park’s MK Kanke, the series season points leader, for the final 98 laps to wins the “Performance Electrical 130” SRL Southwest Tour race at Madera Speedway last Saturday.

Ironically Mendenhall had second thought about even going to the event.

“As we left this morning, I just had this feeling that maybe I should just turn the truck around and head back home,” stated Mendenhall in victory lane. “My brother (and crew chief) Rob was not able to come with us this weekend and I just didn’t have a good feeling about making the trip.”

2007 SRL champion Dave Byrd, of San Jose, led the field to the green, but it was outside front row starter Greg Voigt, of Goleta, who would lead the opening lap. Voigt, coming off his first career SRL win at Stockton 99 Speedway, looked like he may be headed for his second win in less than four weeks until Irwindale winner, Troy Ermish of Fremont made contact with Voigt coming off turn four on lap 32 sending Voigt’s car spinning in front of the entire field. When the smoke cleared, Voigt’s car was in good shape, but he and Ermish would now restart at the rear of the field while Mendenhall inherited the lead would he would never relinquish.

“I can’t believe it. This win is so big for us. We beat the best guys in the business tonight,” said Mendenhall of his second career win which earned him $4,000.

The SRL Southwest Tours next stop will be in Stockton on October 3rd.

Also at Madera last Saturday, Modesto’s Kyle Gottula picked up his seventh Western Late Model victory of the season to take a 385 to 376 lead over Atwater’s Carlos Vieira in the “Chase for the Championship” standings that will determine the 2009 Madera track champion. The final race in the Chase will take place on Saturday September 26th.  

Madera will be dark this weekend but the Chowchilla Speedway, its sister track, will be hosting the Super Stocks, Hobby Stocks, Sportsman, 4-Bangers and Spec Cars plus the Chowchilla Chamber of Commerce Car Show & Burn Out Contest this Saturday night.

David Mayhew, 27-year-old Atascadero, dominated the NASCAR Camping World Series West competition at Iowa Speedway last Friday night en route to winning the Central Iowa Building and Construction Trades 125.

Ontario’s Jason Bowles finished second while Escalon’s Eric Holmes, the 2006 and 2008 defending series champion, in a car he described as “bad tight, everywhere” came home in tenth. As a result Holmes drops to 78 points behind Bowles in the standings  (1998 – 1920) with only the season finale Coparts 150 at All American Speedway in Roseville , Calif. , on Sept. 26 left on the 2009 schedule.

This weekend Manteca’s Scott Speed, who finished 24th last Sunday night at Atlanta, will visit Richmond for the second time in his brief stock car career for Saturday nights Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond International Raceway.

“You can see us improving as we go to these tracks for the second, sometimes third time,” Speed said. “The cars have been really good in recent weeks, even though we struggled on the setup at Atlanta. I would say the turning point in our season was after New Hampshire (in June). Since then, we’ve been getting better and better. Our goal is to keep running inside the top 20 and get into the top 35 so we don’t have to worry about the whole top 35 thing next season.”

After a 23rd-place finish five races ago at Pocono, Speed sat 171 points below the Mendoza Line in the car owner standings. He’s nearly cut that margin in half to just 94 points in the past month. The top 35 cars receive automatic entry into the first six events in 2010.

Speed will pull double duty this weekend. He’ll drive Michael Waltrip Racing’s No. 99 Red Bull Toyota in Friday night’s Nationwide race.

To contact Dale Bosowski, e-mail dbosowski@yahoo.com.

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