OXFORD — Scott Payea picked a great time to win his first career American-Canadian Tour race at Oxford Plains Speedway.

Locked in a tight point battle and even tighter racing for the lead on the .375-mile oval, Payea held off Eddie MacDonald over two late-race restarts to win the Oxford 100 on Saturday night. It was first Oxford win for the Milton, Vermont, driver and his tour-leading third victory of the season as he tries to secure his first career ACT championship.

Payea led on five different occasions in a race featuring 13 lead changes, but every time he relinquished the lead, he found a way to get it back.

“I was really surprised with the car. It didn’t fall off as much as I think others did,” Payea said. “I was not wanting those restarts, but we had plenty of car to hold them off at the end.”

MacDonald had two restarts within the final 11 laps that provided his best shot at winning, but the two-time Oxford 250 champion couldn’t keep enough momentum in the outside lane to pull off the pass for the win. He settled in behind Payea for second, while Connecticut’s Dillon Moltz drove from 19th in the 26-car field to finish third. Windham’s Bradley Babb was fourth, with ACT point leader Nick Sweet of Barre, Vermont, rounding out the top five.

MacDonald, who made early moves to get himself into the top three before launching his assault on the top spot in the second half of the race, simply ran out of tires as he tried to motor past Payea on the final lap 90 restart.

“We were struggling with forward drive at the end,” said MacDonald, of Rowley, Massachusetts. “We had a good car right up until about three-quarters of the way through, and after that we just kind of lost tires. It’s too bad, because the car was pretty good.”

The race developed as a three-car battle at the front between Payea, Babb and MacDonald for most of the race — with much of that battle contested a full straightaway ahead of the rest of the field. Payea and Babb swapped the top spot nine times between them over the final 83 laps, while MacDonald was lying in wait.

Babb led 39 laps in the first half of the race and felt like his chance went by the boards on an extremely slow lap 90 restart — so slow, in fact, the pace car led the field all the way into turn four before hopping the curb at the bottom of the track to head to pit road for the green flag.

“That restart was probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen, honestly,” Babb said. “Nobody knew what was going on, and this car just wasn’t good on a low-speed restart. I just kind of got screwed on it.”

While Oxford has traditionally been a track favoring the outside lane, especially for the ACT Late Models, many teams — including Payea — were quicker on the inside Saturday night. Babb and MacDonald made their early progress on the outside before stalling out in their late battles with the eventual race winner.

“It’s too bad, because if we could have gotten to the lead, we might have had something just to hang on with,” MacDonald said. “That’s pretty much what everyone was doing at the end — just hanging on.”

“Our car really liked the bottom. I just let it roll around the inside, and we were able to pick back up on (Babb) and go by him,” Payea said. “His car didn’t really seem to like the bottom, so he kind of let me have it.”

Payea wasn’t concerned about the hard racing and lead-swapping through the middle stages of the event.

“It’s tough, but with these cars, 100 laps isn’t the longest time,” Payea said of having enough car under him late in the race. “You’ve got to make sure you save a little bit for the end, but when you get in lapped traffic you’ve got to make sure to protect yourself.”

Payea, who posted three straight runner-up finishes in the ACT championship picture from 2007-2009, entered the night 16 points behind Sweet for the series lead. MacDonald was third, four points out of second.

“Eddie finished right behind us and Nick wasn’t too far back, but we’ll take it,” Payea said.

Anthony Nocella of Woburn, Massachusetts, won the Valenti Modified Racing Series 100 to close out the night.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

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Twitter: @TBarrettGWC