Tony Stewart ended a 84 winless streak in thrilling fashion Sunday afternoon during Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway.
Stewart gained the lead after a debris caution on lap 86 and battled former Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin in the remaining laps, making contact several times before Hamlin hit the wall in turn 11.
“It’s special,” said Stewart of his 49th Sprint Cup career victory and his first win since 2013. “Trust me.”
Stewart lead the final 22 laps and won with a 0.625 margin of victory. The win comes after being inducted into the racetrack’s Wall of Fame where he now holds three victories.
Stewart held a two-second lead over Hamlin who was fighting hard door-to-door to keep his position from Martin Truex Jr. with five to go. Once Hamlin cleared Truex he quickly gained ground, but not even the contact with Stewart was enough for Hamlin to take the win.
“I made mistakes the last two laps. I had a little too much rear break in Turn 7 and wheel-hopped it two laps in a row,” Stewart said during his victory lane celebration. “I felt a nudge when I got down there, and (Hamlin) knew where it was. He did the right thing doing it there, but if I could get to him, he knew what was coming. Denny just 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.”
Despite Hamlin’s disappointment of falling short of earning his first road course victory, the FedEx Toyota driver didn’t show any resentment toward Stewart.
“I thought with two or three (laps) to go he pretty much had it, but he made a couple mistakes and allowed us to get pretty close,” Hamlin said. “And then we just both wheel-hopped into 7, and I just let off my wheel-hop a little bit so I could get to his rear bumper and get him out of the groove just a touch.
“It was perfectly executed, but I was going through the esses knowing that I needed to get the biggest gap that I could going into (Turn) 11, and when he was two back or so going into 11, I just … I didn’t run a low enough line in Turn 11 from wheel-hopping in Turn 7. I got the rears hot, wheel-hopped it a little bit again, got out of line, and obviously gave him the inside line.”
Stewart is now one step closer to qualifying for the Chase for the Sprint Cup. After an ATV accident sidelined him for eight races, Stewart was granted a waiver. He now must race his way into the top-30 in points, he is 9 points shy of 30th place.