TRACY -- By the time Mike David's transmission gave out, he'd already clinched his first NASCAR Grand National West championship.
So trailing defending champion Eric Holmes most of Saturday's race didn't bother David too much. It may be the only time that can be said of the competitive local stock car drivers.
Escalon's Holmes won the 200-lap Dan Gamel RV Centers 200 at Altamont Motorsports Park, securing himself a spot in the all-star Toyota Showdown next week. Modesto's David finished third in the race, and ended the championship suspense for the crowd of approximately 4,600 by clinching the title on lap 90.
He needed to finish 22nd or better in the 28-car field to end the season in the points lead. Jason Patison of Corona became the sixth car to leave the track for the night, assuring the worst David could finish was 22nd.
David entered the night with a 95-point lead over two-time champion Mike Duncan. David finished 114 points ahead of Duncan, who was seventh in the race.
"It hasn't really sunk in yet," David said as he held the large championship trophy. "It was an important goal to us when we started -- (team owners) Randy and Lisa Lynch and I and the whole team. It's nice to reach your goal."
Soaking wet from the celebratory champagne the crew sprayed on each other, David said his transmission blew on a late-race restart, forcing him to run in high gear and making it impossible for him to challenge Holmes. In fact, he was worried about the car making it to the finish line.
"It was shaking and popping and making all kinds of noises it wasn't supposed to," David said. "I just held on to her."
While it would have been nice to be more competitive with Holmes, David said, his friend had the best car Saturday. Holmes, who spent half the year in the Busch East Series, said he was happy David and his crew got to experience what he did last year.
"I'm proud of those guys," Holmes said. "I know how hard they work. They've been working at it for about 10 years. It's nice that the Central Valley keeps the championship."
Manteca native Ross Strmiska did not have such a good night. He was entered in the Grand National West race, but his motor broke during qualifying, eliminating him from the main event.
In the 100-lap Western Late Model race, Strmiska spun into the dirt in turn 2 of lap 68. He said he expected a caution flag, and when none appeared, he ventured back out onto the track.
That caused Glen Cook to drive up into leader Ryan Philpott of Tracy. Philpott, who leads the track points standings, hit the wall. Strmiska was parked and Philpott finished seventh in his banged-up car.
Philpott raced as high as sixth in the Grand National West race before his engine blew. Tracy's Rick Ruzbarsky finished 15th. Oakdale's Wes Banks was 19th. Jason Bowles of Ontario was the Rookie of the Year.
Byrd, who led the first 30 laps of the Western Late Model race before Philpott had overtook him, said Philpott did all he could to avoid getting hit. Byrd said Strmiska probably learned a lesson.
"You spin, you stay put," Byrd said. "He knows better now. Everybody has done that. I've done it."
Strmiska said he was pushed into the dirt and had the wheel knocked out of his hands. He thought the rocks he kicked up would warrant a track clean-up.
When there was no caution flag, he became concerned about losing laps and got his car going again. He didn't see Cook, who was not on the lead lap.
Strmiska is not a regular at Altamont, but he entered the night leading the Dodge Weekly Series regional points standings due to his strong season at Madera Speedway.
Bee staff writer Kelly Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.