Tony Stewart returns to victory lane at Sonoma
Tony Stewart celebrates in victory lane at Sonoma Raceway after winning the Toyota/Save Mart 350 on June 26, 2016 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).
By AMANDA VINCENT
Tony Stewart ended a three-year win drought on Sunday with a victory in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway. It was his first Sprint Cup win since a victory at Dover (Del.) International Speedway in June 2013. Stewart’s latest win was his third at Sonoma and eighth-career victory on a road course, moving him to within one race of all-time road-course wins leader, Jeff Gordon.
“Especially at a place you’re going to for the last time, it means a bunch,” Stewart, who is retiring at season’s end, said. “It’s special, trust me.”
The Sonoma win also moved Stewart closer to an entry in the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup. After missing the first eight races of the season because of an off-season back injury, Stewart was granted a waiver that allows him to attempt to get in the Chase, provided he win a race and get himself inside the top-30 in the points standings. In addition to putting him in the wins column, Sunday’s victory also pulled him closer to the top-30 in the standings. Stewart moved from 35th to 32nd in the standings, only nine points outside the top-30 with 10 races remaining in the regular season.
Hamlin battled Stewart hard for the win, and the two drivers made contact on the final lap. Hamlin was able to rub Stewart and take the lead on the last lap, but in the last turn of the last lap, Stewart returned the favor and retook the lead.
“I made mistakes the last two laps,” Stewart said. I had just a little bit too much rear brake for turn seven and wheel-hopped it two laps in a row. But I felt a nudge when I got down there, and he (Hamlin) knew where it was, and he did the right thing doing it there. But if I could get to him, he knew what was coming. he told me he was proud of me. He knows what it means. We were teammates for a long time, and we respect each other a lot.”
Hamlin finished second after leading a race-high 33 laps in the 110-lap race.
“I should have not left the bottom open,” Hamlin said. I thought, If I leave the bottom open, maybe he will think he can get there in a different kind of way. I just overshot the corner a little bit. Still a pretty good day. This is definitely a step in the right direction on the road courst, but, man, utterly disappointed.”
Joey Logano finished third, Carl Edwards was fourth, and Martin Truex Jr. finished fifth.
Stewart pitted for the final time, under green, with about 24 laps remaining. The yellow flag waved a lap later, and after pitting a lap earlier, Stewart stayed out and inherited the race lead while his fellow-competitors headed for pit road.
When he inherited the lead, he replaced Hamlin up front. Hamlin had first taken the lead on a lap-50 restart. He ran up front before losing the top spot to Stewart, with the exception of laps during a cycle of green-flag pit stops around lap 70. Danica Patrick stayed out for awhile during the cycle to lead laps before Hamlin retook the lead on lap 76.
Edwards started the race on the pole, and A.J. Allmendinger started alongside on the front row. Allmendinger took the lead on lap nine and ran up front until a cycle of green-flag pit stops just past lap 20. Edwards was able to beat Allmendinger off pit road, and after everyone else in the race field pitted, Edwards cycled back to the lead by lap 31.
Allmendinger ran at or near the front throughout the race until a pit-road penalty for an uncontrolled tire just inside 25 laps to go. He wound up 14th at the checkered flag.
“I thought, whatever it was, 25 to go, we were coming,” Allmendinger said. “So, in the end, just a bad pit stop and let the tire get away and penalty. That took away our chance to win the race. Overall, I thought the Ralph’s/Kingsford Chevy was pretty good. It was, for sure, a top-three, top-four car. We just need to be up there at the end, and we weren’t.”
Kevin Harvick finished sixth, Kyle Busch was seventh, Ryan Newman eighth, Kasey Kahne ninth, and Kurt Busch rounded out the top-10.