STOCKTON — Third-generation Tracy driver Justin Philpott claimed his third Stockton Late Model class championship Saturday night at Stockton 99 Speedway.
Philpott placed fourth in the final event of the series, but it was good enough to hang onto his lead in the series. He held a healthy 28-point lead over Lodi’s Arron Shankel going into Saturday’s race.
With double points on the line and a strong field of 18 cars in the 100-lap feature, whittled down from 22 cars by a B Main, the championship was far from guaranteed.
Philpott started the race from the fourth row and quickly settled into the sixth position as Shankel, the 2017 champion; Granite Bay’s John Moore; and 2018 champion Sam Solari, of Escalon, fought it out for the lead.
After the dust settled and Solari emerged with the lead on lap 20, Philpott methodically worked his way up through the field, passing Shankel on lap 59 to take third place.
Philpott seemed in perfect position until he began to fade back through the field due to a slow leak in his left rear tire. Philpott had dropped back to seventh when the eighth yellow caution flag of the race came out on lap 84, which allowed him to pit under yellow to change the tire.
Although he returned at the back of the field, Philpott remained on the lead lap and quickly moved forward through the pack when the race resumed.
“There are a lot of ups and down in a race like this, especially when you are points racing. I tried to stay clean, but sometimes you can’t avoid things,” Philpott explained after the race.
Surviving one last scare when Moore and Stockton’s Ty Carlson spun wildly just ahead of him with five laps to go, Philpott followed Solari, Madera’s Joey Iest and Shankel across the finish line to wrap up his third career Stockton Late Model championship.
“This is so special. I can’t thank my family enough for all their support,” said Philpott, who also won the series title in 2009 and 2014.
Saturday’s race was a dominating victory for Solari. Driving the Nascimento family car, he was virtually untouchable the entire race, successfully fending off Iest on multiple restarts.
“We had a rocket ship tonight,” exclaimed Solari, who sold his 2018 championship car last winter. “After not having a ride this season, it was great to come back tonight and show these guys I could have won this thing again.”
David Philpott, a former two-time track champion at Stockton and Justin’s crew chief, watched as his son thanked the crowd after the race.
“This isn’t going to sit well at the kitchen table. I may have to come back and get mine next year,” he joked. “I am really proud of him.”
Justin’s grandfather, John Philpott, also was on hand to celebrate the victory.
Dale Bosowski is a freelance writer covering motor sports in the San Joaquin Valley.