LOUDON, N.H. — Bobby Santos III found himself in a familiar place at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Saturday.
In a fight right down to the final few feet, Santos took the lead with a last-lap pass, and held off a furious charge from 20-year-old rising star Chase Dowling in the final corners to take down the victory in the Eastern Propane & Oil 100.
Santos’ No. 44 Sully Tinio/Olivia’s Market Chevrolet crossed the line .014 seconds ahead of Dowling. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series veteran Ryan Newman, who won the pole earlier in the day, finished third — .149 seconds back.
The triumph was the 17th career in Whelen Modified Tour competition for Santos, his fourth at the ‘Magic Mile’ and his first of the 2018 season. It also marked the third straight New Hampshire victory for the Franklin, Massachusetts veteran.
He charged back from a blown engine on Friday and ended up holding the trophy a day later. He only led three laps.
"I didn’t expect this, we knew had a really good piece coming here, but after yesterday, we didn’t know what was going to happen," Santos said. "The last couple of laps were exciting, I knew I wanted to be out front. They (Dowling) got under me, but I had just enough to hold on. It worked out well."
RACING-REFERENCE: Eastern Propane & Oil 100 Results
– NASCAR Home Tracks (@NASCARHomeTrack) July 21, 2018
For much of the eighth race of the season, Santos was outside the top five, and didn’t seem to be in contention for the win. It painted a near identical picture to two separate occasions in 2017 at New Hampshire for Santos, and he ended both of those races in Victory Lane.
Saturday, he moved to the point for the first time on Lap 95, but lost the lead to Ryan Newman shortly after. In the final mile, Santos took the advantage back, put on a block on Dowling down the backstretch, and drove around to the finish line looking for the checkered flag.
However, Dowling was able to crossover to the bottom, drive up to the side of Santos, and drag race him all the way down the frontstretch.
"It’s a 100-lap race, we knew we had a good car, and we knew we would have a pit stop at some point," Santos said of the strategy to make a late charge through the field. "We just had to make the right calls, at the right time."
RACING-REFERENCE: Bobby Santos’ Career at New Hampshire
Although the 2o-year-old Roxbury, Connecticut, driver came up just short, a second-place finish on the prestigious stage at New Hampshire was exactly what Dowling wanted in the bigger picture — the championship battle. He came just inches away from scoring his first Whelen Modified Tour win.
"I watched the All Star race (on Friday) in the spotters stand for a reason," Dowling said. "I knew Bobby was going to block, and that’s not dirty racing, it’s what you have to do. We came to the finish door-to-door, and you can’t really ask for much more than that. Clean racing, and all four tires still on the car."
Championship points leader Justin Bonsignore led a race-high 46 laps and followed Newman across the line in fourth. Eric Goodale finished fifth. Rowan Pennink was sixth, followed by Ron Silk, Matt Swanson, Patrick Emerling and Ronnie Williams.
The race saw 20 different lead changes among nine different drivers.
Bonsignore holds a 32-point advantage in the championship standings over Dowling as the series heads for the second half of the season. Timmy Solomito is third, 66 points back in the title fight.
The Eastern Propane & Oil 100 will air on NBCSN on Thursday, July 25, at 7 p.m.
NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour teams return to the track at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway for the Starrett 150 on Friday, August 3.