Stewart Back in Victory Lane
By: Robbie Mays - @robbiemays | MRN.com on June 26, 2016 | 6:05 P.M. EST
Stewart ended a 84-race winless streak dating back to Dover in 2013. (Photo: Getty Images)
Tony Stewart bumped Denny Hamlin in the final turn of the final lap to win the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, ending an 84-race losing streak for the three-Time Sprint Cup Series Champion.
The victory was crucial to Stewart’s hopes of making the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup in his final full-time season of competition and comes just four months after an injury sustained in an off-road vehicle accident sidelined Stewart for the first eight races of the season.
An emotional and physically drained Stewart spoke of the importance of the win, his third at Sonoma and first since June 2013 at Dover.
“They’re all good. It doesn’t matter where you get them. Especially at a place you’re going to for the last time, it means a bunch,” Stewart said. “It’s special, trust me."
Stewart’s team used pit strategy followed by a well-timed caution to shoot to the lead with 35 laps to go and was able to hold off the Toyota trio of Martin Truex Jr., Hamlin and Kyle Busch throughout the final third of the race.
On the final lap, Hamlin got to Stewart’s bumper in Turn 4 of the 11-Turn, 2-mile road course and was able to pass Stewart one turn later. But Stewart was able to stay close behind Hamlin moving through the second half of the final lap of the race, reaching Hamlin’s bumper in the final turn.
Hamlin locked up his tires and slid heading into the final turn, allowing Stewart to get to the inside of Hamlin. Stewart then muscled his way past Hamlin to the win, his 8th career road course victory, and the 49th win of his 18-year career.
“I made mistakes the last two laps. I had just a little bit too much rear brake for Turn 7 and wheel-hopped it two laps in a row,” 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."
“Tony was doing a good job maintaining his tires, a good job of running consistent laps there,” Hamlin said. “I left the bottom open and that was a bad mistake on my part." (Read More)
Behind Stewart and Hamlin was Joey Logano, Carl Edwards and Truex rounding out the top-five finishers. Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch made up the top 10.
Harvick continues to hold the lead in the series point standings, 35 markers over teammate Kurt Busch.
The Sprint Cup Series will make the return to Daytona next Saturday night for the Coke Zero 400, a race Stewart has won four times.
How Stewart Won: Stewart pitted on lap 85 of the 110-lap race for tires and fuel, the lone car on pit road at the time, and seconds later the caution flag was thrown for debris. With the field needing to pit for fuel and tires, Stewart was able to restart in first and then held the lead for the remainder of the race, holding off Hamlin following the last-lap challenge for the win.
Who Else Had a Good Day: Joe Gibbs Racing. After two races of struggling to maintain the dominance they displayed through the first third of the season, JGR had three teams finish in the top-10 and led a combined 59 laps.
Who Had a Bad Day: Clint Bowyer. Coming into Sonoma, Bowyer had a lot of confidence that he could turn his season around at, statistically, one of his best race tracks. But after stopping on track on lap 5, a small electrical fire started in his no. 15 Chevrolet, sending him to the garage and out of the race, finishing 40th.
What Else Happened: Rookie standout Chase Elliott showed he was actually human with a 21st-place finish on Sunday, ending a streak of six consecutive top-10 finishes. Elliott won Saturday’s K&N Pro Series West race, started 16th in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, but struggled to find speed, hovered around the 10th position but faded at the end.
Quote of the Day: "I'm not pissed off at anybody, so that's a bonus at this point in the race.” - Tony Stewart, said over team communications while leading under caution with 17 laps to go.
Notables: Dale Earnhardt Jr., fastest in final practice on Friday, spent much of his day in the top 10 but faded to 11th after contact late in the race wrinkled his left front fender… AJ Allmendinger had an up and down day, spending 20 laps in the lead but rebounded to finish 14th after an uncontrolled tire penalty sent him to the rear of the field during pitstops on lap 87… This was the final Sprint Cup broadcast for Fox Sports. NBC will take over coverage for the remainder of the season starting with next week’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona.
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