Two days after saying he wasn’t having fun driving a Sprint Cup car anymore, Tony Stewart claimed victory in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, his first NASCAR win since June 2013.
After leading the previous 21 laps, Stewart’s No. 14 Chevrolet skidded through Turn 7 because of a wheel-hop, giving Denny Hamlin enough room to capitalize and take the lead. But in the last corner of the final lap, Hamlin himself went wide, opening the door for Stewart to bounce off Hamlin’s car, sending it into the wall. Stewart drag-raced to the line to claim his first win at Sonoma since 2005 and the 49th of his Sprint Cup career.
“They’re all good; it doesn’t matter where you get them,” Stewart, who will retire after his season from NASCAR’s premier series, told Fox Sports 1. “We ran close to those guys all day. We just got stuck back in traffic.”
After starting 10th, Stewart ran in the top 10 most of the day until pit stops shuffled him to 15th past halfway. His team elected to pit in case of a debris caution. It came with 22 laps to go. Stewart remained on track to take first as the rest of the lead-lap cars pitted. He survived two more restarts and fended off Hamlin and Martin Truex Jr. in the final 14 laps.
Turn 7 almost doomed Stewart, as the No. 14 wheel-hopped there the final two laps.
“I had just a little bit too much rear brake for Turn 7,” Stewart said. “I felt a nudge when I got down there, and he knew where it was, and he did the right thing doing it there; but if I could get to (Hamlin), he knew what was coming.”
Hamlin said his line in Turn 11 was the result of a wheel-hop in Turn 7.
“I got the rear (tires) hot, wheel hopped it a little bit again, got out of line, and obviously gave him the inside line,” Hamlin said. “Once I knew he had position and we had a wall on the other side of us, that I knew, pretty good chance, that we were going to go in the wall. I don’t think he was going to leave it to chance.”
Afterward, Hamlin, Greg Biffle and teammates Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch greeted Stewart at his car between burnouts on the frontstretch.
“(Hamlin) told me he was proud of me,” Stewart said. “He knows what it means. We were teammates for a long time, and we respect each other a lot.”
The three-time champion must crack the top 30 in points to be eligible for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Stewart is 32nd in the standings, nine points out of 30th, with 10 races remaining in the regular season.
Stewart was followed by Hamlin, Joey Logano, Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr.
HOW TONY STEWART WON: The two-time Sonoma winner led the final 22 laps but lost the lead to Hamlin from Turn 7 to Turn 11 on the final lap. Stewart then got under Hamlin in Turn 11, bouncing off of the No. 11 and going on to the win.
WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: With a career-best second at Sonoma, Denny Hamlin tied his career high for laps led (33) at Sonoma before losing the chance at a win in the final turn. … Joey Logano finished third for his best finish in eight Sonoma starts … Ryan Newman finished eighth for his his fifth top 10 and second-best finish of the year … Kasey Kahne finished ninth for his third top 10 in the last six races.
WHO HAD A BAD DAY: Clint Bowyer, a former Sonoma winner, fell victim to an electrical fire eight laps into the race. Bowyer finished last for only his third result outside the top 10 at Sonoma in his career … Kyle Larson ran in the top five for most of the day but was caught speeding on pit road just before Lap 40. The California native finished 12th … AJ Allmendinger, who led 20 laps, was penalized for an uncontrolled tire during the final pit stops and had to restart 36th before finishing 14th … Michael McDowell brought out a caution with 18 to go after stalling out on the track
NOTABLE: Stewart’s win is his first with rookie crew chief Mike Bugarewicz, who was promoted to the role from serving as Kevin Harvick’s lead engineer. … Since winning the Daytona 500, Hamlin had not led more than 15 laps in a race (Dover)
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Especially at a place you’re going to for the last time, it means a bunch. It’s special, trust me.” – Tony Stewart after earning his third win at Sonoma in his final start on the road course.
NEXT: The Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 3 at 7:45 p.m. ET on NBC.