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Gomes claims first Southwest Tour victory
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BAKERSFIELD — Eighteen-year-old Jacob Gomes won his first career SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series event on May 14 at the Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

His victory in the StreamPayPerView.TV “Blackjack 121” was in just the 17th career SRL start for the young Manteca driver.

“We’ve had a great car all year and we finally got our first win. We’ve been trying so hard, this series is so tough and it feels really good to get our first SRL win,” Gomes said from the winner’s circle.

Fellow Mantecans Mike Sandoval and Ross Strmiska also raced in the event.

On his way to victory, Gomes chased early leader Derek Thorn, had to hold off the charge of Jim Pettit II late in the race, and then a closing M.K. Kanke to win by 2.43 seconds. The win moved Gomes into championship contention, just 4 points back of the championship leading Kanke and 6 points ahead of Pettit who is third in the SRL standings.

“We were so close last year to getting that first win, but we broke while leading the race at Orange Show, we’ve waited a long time for this. I have always liked the Bullring, it’s a great track, now I can’t wait for Stockton.” Gomes concluded.

At the drop of the green it was Maryland driver Jeff Oleen, who jumped out to the lead, followed closely by local favorite Bear Rzesnowiecky. Oleen in his first career SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series start was driving an NTS Motorsports Chevrolet as teammate to Brennan Newberry.

The first caution of the race fell on lap six, as the top 10 cars ran nose to tail through turns 1 and 2, contact between the Moeller Bros. Chevrolet of Eric Holmes and the RPM/PSI Chevrolet of Kanke, resulted in Kanke spinning and restarting at the rear of the 22 car field.

Back to green, Thorn began to pressure Oleen attempting to wrestle the lead away. Caution again fell on lap 12, as 2006 SRL champ Eric Schmidt spun in turn 2.

On the restart, Oleen held the lead, until point leader Thorn charged into the lead on lap 15. Oleen slid into second and onto Thorn’s bumper, followed by Strmiska, Rzesnowiecky, and Gomes. Thorn and Oleen ran 1-2 for the next 28 laps, until the Thunder Valley Resort Casino / Dell’Osso Family Farms Chevrolet of Gomes moved past Oleen for second.

Gomes now set his sights on Thorn, who had built a 10-car length lead. Lap 55, the caution came out for a spin by Scott Sanchez and Dave Byrd. The top 10 were Thorn, Gomes, Oleen, Strmiska, Pettit, Jared Vorse, Rzesnowiecky, Jonathan Mawhinney, Holmes and Kanke.

Back to green, Strmiska slipped up off turn 2 and Pettit moved up to fourth. Three laps later Pettit moved his Top of the Hill/Golden Gate Petroleum Ford to the inside of Oleen for third. Oleen, now up in the second groove, couldn’t get back down in line until six cars went by him, Oleen was ninth before it sorted out.

Caution came out again on lap 64, with Thorn leading, Gomes applying the pressure, followed by Pettit, Strmiska, and Olympia, Washington’s Vorse up to fifth.

On the re-start, contact was made among Pettit, Strmiska, Vorse and Mawhinney, as they were nose to tail coming off turn 4 for the re-start. Vorse was shuffled high, allowing Mawhinney to take over fifth.

The top three ran bumper to bumper, with Gomes running just inches off the bumper cover of Thorn’s SP Crankshaft Toyota, as Pettit backed off to watch the battle unfold for the lead.

Lap 80, Gomes got a drive under Thorn coming off turn 2, and edged ahead entering the Bullring’s turn 3, Pettit took advantage of the opportunity and followed the 18 year-old on the inside to go by Thorn.

Gomes in the lead, Pettit second, followed by Thorn, Strmiska, and Mawhinney with 31 laps to go.

By lap 100, Thorn had sled back to fifth, Mawhinney was up to fourth. Gomes was stretching his lead over Pettit, while the leaders were working lapped traffic.

Three laps later, the red flag was displayed, as Thorn’s car erupted into flames coming off turn 4, due to a blown oil line, Thorn exited the car quickly but his night was over, as well as his lead in the championship standings.

Drivers still on the lead lap at this point in the race were, Gomes, Pettit, Strmiska, Mawhinney, Kanke, Vorse, Holmes, Schmidt, who had worked his way back up after a spin on lap 12, Keith Spangler, Oleen, and Joe Farre’ making his first start of 2011.

With 19 laps to go, Pettit tried to keep pace with Gomes, but Gomes was the class of the field and slowly put distance on the 2008 SRL champ. On lap 106, Kanke droved under Strmiska for third.

With 10 to go, Gomes was extending his lead, Kanke was making up ground on Pettit, and Mawhinney was trying to move under Strmiska for fourth.

With 3 to go, Kanke ran deep into turn three to take second away from Pettit. White flag, Kanke was trying to close on Gomes, but Gomes went on to secure his first career SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series victory. Kanke second, Pettit third, followed by Mawhinney, Strmiska, Vorse, Schmidt, Holmes, Spangler and Oleen rounded out the top ten.

After three events, Kanke took over the top spot in the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series championship standings with 500 points; Gomes is now second with 496, Pettit third at 490, Strmiska at 456 and Thorn stays in the top five with 451 points.

Next race for the SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour Series is Saturday, June 4 at the historic Stockton 99 Speedway.