NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Smoke Rises: Tony Stewart Wins Sonoma Thriller

After 111 races, 84 starts, three years and multiple physical/emotional hardships, Tony Stewart is once again a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner.

Stewart’s victory came at the 1.99-mile road course of Sonoma Raceway, site of two of his 48 Cup victories, after inheriting the lead with 21 laps to go due to pit strategy. Crew chief Mike Bugarewicz called the No. 14 team in for a green flag pit stop just a couple of laps beforehand, banking on another caution. A caution for debris moments later paid off, as the rest of the cars on the lead lap had to pit for fuel and tires.

Stewart proceeded to hold off some close challengers over the next 20 laps, most notably a hard charging Martin Truex, Jr., before a last-lap duel that was one to remember. Denny Hamlin closed in on Stewart in the final five laps before making his move with one to go in turn 7 on the final lap. Hamlin got around Smoke after a dive-bomb, but Stewart was able to dive-bomb him back in the final section of corners in the race, putting the Daytona 500 champion in the wall and ending up winning the race.

“I made mistakes the last two laps,” Stewart said in Victory Lane. “I had just a little bit too much rear brake for turn 7, and wheel-hopped it two laps in a row. But, I felt a nudge when I got down there and [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.”

Stewart is now in the hunt for a spot in the Chase after missing the first eight races of his final full-time Sprint Cup Series season due to an off-season back injury. The 11th winner of the season, Stewart just needs to be in the top 30 in points and for there to not be more than 15-16 winners before Richmond.

Stewart leaves Sonoma with just nine points separating himself from 30th in points.

“I don’t know how to replay that last lap differently,” Hamlin said post race, after finishing second. “[Stewart] made mistakes that allowed me to get there and get position. I made a mistake at the end to get the lead and get position and I made a mistake to give up the lead on the last corner. Just one of those deals. You’d like to be on the winning end of this, but unfortunately we were not on that end.”

Joey Logano ended up third, followed by pole sitter Carl Edwards in fourth. Truex seemed to have a faster car than Stewart with 15 laps to go but couldn’t get around the race winner and faded back to fifth.

Kevin Harvick ended the day sixth, while defending Sprint Cup Series champion Kyle Busch finally got some positive momentum by finishing seventh, and Ryan Newman finished eighth. Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch rounded out the top 10 in ninth and 10th, respectively.

There were 12 total lead changes among eight different drivers and four cautions that took up 10 laps in the 110-lap race. The last caution occurred when Michael McDowell stalled out in turn 10 with just 17 laps to go.

Full results here.

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