Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin engaged in an intense last-lap battle in the Toyota-Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway Sunday, with the soon-to-retire Smoke prevailing over the Toyota driver to take his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win since June 2013.
Stewart grabbed the lead with 25 laps to go after crew chief Mike Bugarewicz called him into the pits for fresh rubber one lap before a caution came out. Restarting from first, the Chevrolet driver managed to hold the lead for the remaining 19 laps, but not without being challenged for the lead by Hamlin and Ford’s Joey Logano.
On the last lap, Hamlin found his way past Stewart as Smoke’s No. 14 Chevrolet SS wheel hopped into Turn 7. The ever-hungry Stewart followed in hot pursuit through Turns 8, 9 and 10 before Hamlin understeered wide through the Turn 11 hairpin, letting Smoke through on the inside.
While Stewart and Hamlin battled, Logano was waiting in third hoping the pairing would get greedy and take each other out. That never happened, fortunately, and Stewart was able to take an extremely popular win in front of the big California crowd.
“I made mistakes the last two laps,” Stewart said post-race. “I had just a little bit too much rear brake for Turn 7, and wheel-hopped it two laps in a row. I felt a nudge when I got down there and he 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 (after the race) he was proud of me. He knows what it means. We were teammates for a long time (at Joe Gibbs Racing), and we respect each other a lot.”
Logano piloted his No. 22 Fusion home in third, while pole sitter Carl Edwards finished fourth. Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top five, followed by Kevin Harvick , Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Kasey Kahne and Kurt Busch.