Tony Stewart/No.14 Code 3 Assoc/Mobil 1 Chevrolet squeezed by the battling Denny Hamlin/No.11 FedEx Cares Toyota in Turn Eleven on the last lap of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Toyota/Save Mart 350 Race at Sonoma Raceway. Stewart touched Hamlin as they went in side by side, Hamlin bobbled, tagged the wall, and Stewart pulled ahead by 0.625 seconds to take his first victory in 84 races. Then Smoke, as he’s called, did just that spinning doughnuts and buzzing his motor up in Turn Seven. At the end of this season, Stewart retires from Cup racing and moves on to the second half of his race career.
This was Stewarts 49th win, his eighth road course victory, and his third victory at Sonoma. He led once, for 22 laps.
Stewart’s Crew Chief Mike Bugarewicz said nothing else was working on their pit stops, so decided to go off-strategy and brought Stewart in during a late green flag run, when it sounded on the radio like there might be debris on the track. Five laps later there was a debris caution, and with 22 laps to go, Stewart took the lead, while there were wholesale pitstops by the pack.
Stewart lost the lead on the last lap in Turn Seven when the charging Hamlin passed him. The two raced around the last few turns going for the finish, while everyone held their collective breath watching them go through Turn Eleven, the last chance for a pass. And it happened, not exactly a surprise.
Stewart was in a “must win” situation at Sonoma – being 35th in points and winless. In order to make The Chase, after missing eight races at the beginning of the season due to his broken back, he has to be in the top thirty in points and have a win. He delivered….barely. He’s now 32nd in the standings, narrowing the gap to the cutoff to nine points. And he’s got his obligatory win.
Stewart co-owns a NASCAR team of four cars with Gene Haas, and two of their cars are 1-2 in the Owner points – Kevin Harvick/No.4 Mobil 1 Chevrolet and Kurt Busch/No.41 Monster Energy/Haas Automation Chevrolet – drivers who are still first and second in the Driver Standings, 35 points apart. Harvick has extended his contract with the team.
Stewart – ” They’re all good (wins), but this one is special. Hamlin told me he was so proud of me when he stuck his head in my window.” In talking about his last lap, Stewart said “I wasn’t going to be cordial going through that corner. If it was a street fight, he’d have two black eyes. I’m going for more wins, and I don’t lay down for anything. But if this is the last win, I’m OK with that.”
Hamlin led twice for 30 laps, the most of any leader. He said “I shouldn’t have given him that opportunity. I allowed him to get a good run on me. I knew he was going to put me into the wall. He did what he had to do and I did what I had to do, and all’s fair in love and war.” He also said I”It was a great, fun race. We had the car good enough to win.” Regarding Stewart’s mood at this point, he opined “His give a shit factor is pretty low” as this was probably his best chance to get into the Chase. We just a little ‘heart to heart’ when I talked to him through his window after the race.”
Photos by Jeff and Mike Burghardt.
Finishing third through fifth were Joey Logano/No.22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, Pole Sitter Carl Edwards/No.19 Stanley Toyota, and Martin Truex/No.78 Furniture Row Toyota.
Sixth through tenth were Harvick, Kyle Busch/No.18 M&M’s 75th Anniversary Toyota, Ryan Newman/No.31 WIX Filters Chevrolet, Kasey Kahne/No.5 Great Clips Chevrolet, and Kurt Busch.
Logano said “We’re probably witnessing a historic moment in NASCAR today with Tony getting that win today. Shows he has what it takes. I started next to him and he was hammering it from the start. So, I said ‘We’ve got that Tony Stewart today.”
Carl Edwards/No.19 Stanley Toyota had the pole position, led the first eight laps before being beaten on a restart by second fastest qualifier, A.J. Allmendinger/No.47 Ralphs/Kingsford Chevrolet. Edwards led twice for 24 laps, and turned the fastest race lap. He also won the Duralast Brakes “Brake in the Race” Award.
Allmendinger led four times for 20 laps. He had an up and down day, finishing down after a penalty for “uncontrolled tire” during his last pit stop, which relegated him to the end of the pack of 35 cars at the last restart. AJ finished 14th after charging back through the pack after his penalty, and earned the Ingersoll Rand Power Move Award.
Other leaders, via recycling through pit stops, were Harvick for three laps, Kyle Busch once for two laps, Paul Menard/No.27 Richmond/Menards Chevrolet once for three laps, and Stewart’s teammate, Danica Patrick/No.10 Nature’s Bakery Chevrolet once for three laps.
Chase Elliott/No.24 3M Chevrolet was the top Rookie, finishing 21st. This was his first time at the wine country road course.
Clint Bowyer/No.15 5-Hour Energy Chevrolet didn’t have a great day. He started eighteenth, but retired early with an apparent ignition/electrical fire on Lap Eight. Bowyer got out of the car in a hurry and was unhurt. He will be the replacing Stewart in the No.14 next year, which will be a Ford when the team switches manufacturers.
Overall, it wasn’t the most exciting of races…until the last few laps. The leader packs didn’t change much. There was some good battles between Edwards and Allmendinger, between Hamlin and Truex battling Stewart, and it was fun to watch Allmendinger charging through the pack after his penalty. There were four cautions, one for Bowyer, debris when Austin Dillon/No.3 Dow/Utility Trailers Chevrolet had a problem in Turn One, spring rubber debris during a long boring parade stretch, and when Michael McDowell/No.95 Circle Sport Leave Chevrolet pulled off in Turn 10.
Five drivers were new to Sonoma Raceway: Rookies Elliott, Ryan Blaney/No.21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford, and Brian Scott/No.44 Safeway/Blue Emu Ford, plus Chris Buscher/No.34 Love’s Travel Stops Ford and Dylan Lupton/No.93 Bell Bros Plumbing, Heat & Air/Elk Grove Toyota.
All the cars pulled for inspection passed – Stewart, Hamlin, Logano, Edwards, Truex and ‘random’ Blaney. Stewart and Hamlin’s cars go to the NASCAR R&D Center in Concord NC for further inspection.
The weather was low nineties with somewhat of a breeze. The crowd looked impressive.