Stewart got by Hamlin on the final turn of Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway to earn his first win since 2013 – and left Hamlin to ponder how this one got away.
“I shouldn’t have given him that opportunity (on the last lap),” Hamlin said over his team radio.
In a postrace interview on Fox Sports 1, he expanded on that.
“I got in there, didn’t wheel-hop or anything, just slid up a little bit in the middle and allowed him to get a real good run on me,” Hamlin said. “Once (Stewart) had inside position; we weren’t going to drag-race at that point.
“I knew he was going to put me in the wall. He’s doing what he has to do, and we’re trying to do what we have to do. All’s fair in love and war.”
Hamlin finished 0.625 seconds behind Stewart.
“We had a really good car,” Hamlin said in a postrace media session. “Obviously the best road course car I’ve had.”
Hamlin leaves Sonoma still looking for his first career Sprint Cup road course win. His career best at Watkins Glen International also is a second (in 2007).
Hamlin took the lead on the last lap, passing Stewart in Turn 7 after the latter made a mistake by overdriving the turn.
“I thought with two or three (laps) to go, he pretty much had it, but he made a couple mistakes and allowed us to get pretty close,” Hamlin said. “We just both wheel-hopped into 7, and I just let off my wheel-hop a little bit so I could get to his rear bumper and get him out of the groove just a touch.
“It was perfectly executed, but … I didn’t run a low enough line in Turn 11 from wheel-hopping in Turn 7. I got the rears hot, wheel hopped it a little bit again, got out of line, and obviously gave him the inside line. … We definitely had a car that should have won, but we were on the bad end of the deal.”
Hamlin admitted he was worried that if Stewart could get to his back bumper heading into the 11th and final turn of the last lap, that his rival might try to turn him.
“I didn’t know if he would physically spin us out,” Hamlin said. “I thought there was a very good chance of it because that’s his opportunity to get in the Chase ultimately.”
Hamlin then said with a laugh, “I mean, how many more chances is he going to have? I think this is by far the best he’s run all year, and he’s in his final season, so his give a (expletive) factor is probably really low to be honest with you.”
Still, though disappointed at his runner-up finish, Hamlin was philosophical about it, coupled with the relationship he’s had with Stewart – a former teammate, as well – over the years.
“Tony has been ultra fair to me quite a bit,” Hamlin said. “He’s treated me really well my entire career. It’s not like I gave him one by any means. He gave us an opportunity to move him, we did, and then we got it back. It’s just part of the deal.”