Eric “Bubba” Nascimento Jr., of Manteca, overcame an early-race skirmish to capture his fifth consecutive Stockton Late Model feature at the 99 Speedway on Saturday night.
Stockton’s Gary Shafer Jr., returning to the cockpit after a multi-week absence due to health issues, led the 16-car field to start the 50-lap feature, only to see the race come to an immediate red flag halt when a mid-pack collision on the opening lap sent Dominic Lopez, of San Leandro, careening hard into the turn No. 1 wall.
The second attempt at a start was more successful as Shafer quickly vaulted into the lead with Stockton’s Ty Carlson, Escalon’s Sam Solari and Nascimento all trying to chase him down like hungry dogs after a meat wagon.
Nascimento and another car touched entering the backstretch of lap two, causing him to nearly lose control. He was able to avoid a spin, but dropped back in seventh place before regaining control of his car and getting back up to speed.
As a result of the mishap, Nascimento spent the next 30 laps clawing his way back up through the field before settling into second behind Shafer.
Shafer was able to hold Nascimento off on a pair of late race yellow-caution restarts, but when Nascimento tried to go underneath him with three laps to go he touched Shafer’s bumper causing Shafer to fishtail just enough to slip past him.
Shafer returned the favor on the next lap by getting into Nascimento’s back bumper coming out of turn No. 4, but the love tap upset his car as well which allowed Nascimento to stave Shafer off on the white flag lap for the victory.
“I felt it was just hard racing. He was working his tail off to get by me and rubbed me a little bit to get by me. I rubbed him back to let him know I can get rough also,” said Shafer, taking the high road. “He and I both gave everything we had and he was able to come out on top tonight.”
Nascimento was unapologetic as he celebrated his seventh overall win this season on the front straight with his crew.
“I didn’t dump him or wreck him. I just gave him a little bump to let him know I was there. I don’t try to be rough, but I am going for a championship and I will do what I need to do. If someone doesn’t like it they shouldn’t be out here.”
Rounding out the top five in the hard fought race were Solari, Stockton’s Joey Stearns and Lodi’s Arron Shankel.
Joe Flowers, of Manteca, continued his near perfect season by capturing the checkered flag in the 16-car, B-4 main for his eighth victory in nine starts at the 99 this year.
Flowers took over the lead in the 25-lap feature by ducking under Andrew Rumsey, of Stockton, on lap five, but when Rumsey tried to counter attack the pair touched causing Flowers to almost spinout before somehow regaining control.
“I nearly got sideways. I was amazed because I thought I was going around for sure, but when I floored it somehow it hooked up.,” explained Flowers after the race.
Rumsey would eventually start to fall back before retiring to the infield for the night with steering damage while Flowers sailed on to the checkered flag well ahead of Jeff Harris and Barrett Sugden, both of Stockton.
Rodney Tripp, of Stockton, used his front row starting position in the 20-lap Bomber feature to jump to the early lead and cruise to a wire-to-wire, caution free victory over Linden’s Mikala Stearns and Kyle Singleton, of Clovis.
“That was a lot of fun tonight. Once we got out front it was just matter of making good laps,” said Tripp. “My crew did a great job preparing the car and I’m just the lucky guy who gets to drive it.”
It was the third win in five starts this year for Tripp, who plans on moving into the late model ranks next year.
In other classes, John Sorensen handily beat Jack Heinrich to the finish as the Legends of Kearney Bowl hardtops made a rare appearance at Stockton for a 15-lap feature and Evan Laires, of Linden, captured the 15-lap Mini Cup race.
The 99 Speedway will go dark for the next three weekends before returning for two consecutive programs on Oct. 17 and the “double points” regular season finale on Oct. 24.