Race Capsule: Stewart has fun at Sonoma, saves farewell season
Tony Stewart's final seasons have been trainwrecks. Bad performances, mistakes, and almost zero results have only been interrupted by two catastrophic injuries away from the No. 14 car and the tragic death of Kevin Ward Jr. at the hands of Stewart's Sprint Car. But Stewart's win in Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway in California could prove to be not just the 49th win of his career, but one of the biggest. Here is how Stewart broke a three-year, 84-race winless streak.
Flag to flag: The race went green with Carl Edwards (finished 4th) on the pole for the third time this season. Edwards led the majority of the early laps of the race, with interruptions from the desperate, hard-charging A.J. Allmendinger (14th). Allmendinger started 2nd in the No. 47 Chevy and knew coming in that this race or the Watkins Glen road course were his two best chances to win and make the Chase, just as he did in 2014 at The Glen. He led some laps and ran near the front, but pit strategy set him behind and a pit penalty on the final stop dropped him to 35th on the second-to-last restart.
A mid-race caution for debris came out just as Kyle Busch (7th) and Denny Hamlin (2nd) made pit stops. They stayed on the lead lap and Hamlin inherited the lead for almost all of the race's second half. Stewart ran in the top 10 for most of the
Stewart did a masterful job on the final two restarts thwarting Hamlin, Martin Truex Jr. (5th), and Ky. Busch. They kept catching Stewart, but couldn't pass him, as Stewart drove mistake-free. A caution for the stopped Michael McDowell (39th) car with a few laps to go set up a thrilling, final restart.
Truex Jr. got around Hamlin and closed in on Stewart, diving inside at one point, but Stewart drove across his nose and kept the lead. As Truex Jr. fell back and raced Hamlin, Stewart pulled to a
Then Hamlin got around a fading Truex Jr. and started closing on Stewart. On the next-to-last lap, Stewart messed up Turn 7 and Hamlin got around him. Hamlin would have had his first-career road course win in NSCS, but that wasn't to be. In Turn 11 - the last turn of the last lap, Hamlin wheel-hopped the No. 11 Toyota and left the bottom lane open for Stewart, who nosed under his former teammate, door-slammed him out of the groove, and took the win
Most team members of the Stewart-Haas Racing organization congratulated Stewart before his victory lap and several drivers, including Hamlin, rushed to his window to pay proper respects to a whale of a drive.
Stewart missed the 2016 season's first eight races with a back injury and has the double goal of making the top 30 in points and scoring a win. He got the win Sunday and now is only nine points out of 30th in the standings (he is 32nd). If he breaks the top 30 and stays there until after the September Richmond race, he will race for the Chase for the first time since 2012 and in his final season. This is a big deal for one of
Top 10: Stewart; Hamlin; Joey Logano (never got out front but hung in top 10 all day); Edwards (had slow final pit stop to repair damage and never got back to the front); Truex Jr. (used up his car on the final run trying to run down Stewart); Harvick (started 25th and gained track position on pit strategy); Ky. Busch (top 5
The points: Stewart's win and the assumption that he will maintain inside the top 30 in points means that only 15th in the standings, in theory, will make the Chase. Jamie McMurray holds that spot over 16th Kahne (-13), 17th Ryan Blaney (-24), 18th Allmendinger (-33), 19th Trevor Bayne (-37), 20th Kyle Larson (-43), and 21st Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (-47). Only 15 points separate 12th place Dale Earnhardt Jr. and McMurray, with Newman and Austin Dillon in between. Crashes and parts failure will be extremely costly at this point and, really, anyone outside the top 17 only gets a realistic Chase bid if they win. Next week's Daytona race could thicken this plot mightily.
RaceTweet: Stewart scores wildly popular and highly important win at Sonoma, losing
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Tony Stewart - The fact that he only messed up two or three corners in those closing laps on an 11-turn course to score a win he needed much more than his suitors says everything. Stewart may not be as good as he once was, but he's as good once, as he ever was. Someone should make a song out of that. He led 22 laps, third-most in the field behind Edwards (30) and Hamlin (24).
North Korean Missile Dud: Clint Bowyer - I may be bitter about how he destroyed my NASCAR fantasy team today in one of the few races I would actually start him, but the No. 15 team truly peed the bed in Sonoma. Bowyer knows his way around road courses, having won this race in 2012 and Sunday proved one of his best shots at making the Chase. Instead, not only did he not win, but a shock on his 5-Hour Energy Chevy caught fire on lap 4, ending his day. Yes, a shock. I have never heard of a
You Can Comeback, But You Can't Stay Here: A.J. Allmendinger - Even though "The Dinger" didn't get that much-needed win, his storming through the field deserves a standing o. Allmendinger drove from 35th to 14th in the final 20 laps, after his crew had an uncontrolled tire on the final pit stop. He very well could have won Sunday, but making up 21 spots in 20 laps on an impossibly hard passing track proves that at least on road courses, the diminutive Allmendinger is one of the big boys.
Ghost Driver: Chase Elliott - Elliott has had a dream season for a rookie and for a
Never Fear, Underdog is Here: No one - Sorry underdogs. None of you surfaced to show any kind of muster on Sunday. All the big teams ran up front, with only the
Wheel of Misfortune: Allmendinger - His crew's penalty on the final stop snuffed out any chance he could win. That was no fault of his own.
Jimmie Johnson's Golden Horseshoe: Stewart - That caution on the lap after his final pit stop couldn't have been timed
Head-Scratcher Crown of Thorns: That fight between John Wes Townley and Spencer Gallagher at the end of Saturday's Camping World Truck Series race at Gateway Motorsports Park was part-legendary, part-sissy, part-awkward, and
NCWTSTweet: Bell survives late restart carnage to win and Townley takes the win over Gallagher at the fighting bell. See what we did there?
Georgia On My Mind: We already covered Chase Elliott - he struggled to a 21st-place run, but stays 6th in the points. And he impressively won Saturday's NKNPSW race at Sonoma over rising star Noah Gragson.
David Ragan struggled all day and placed 32nd. He ran as high a 29th (he started 30th), but fell back a lap down to 36th. After a free pass, he made up some spots over the other road course strugglers. He is now 29th in the points, 18 ahead of 31st.
Reed Sorenson did not enter the race, as Cody Ware attempted his
The only Georgia driver in Saturday's NCWTS race was...the infamous Townley. He actually was running in the top 10 when Gallagher wrecked him the first time. He finished 23rd and is 18th in points, second-lowest of anyone who has started each Truck race. Townley is almost 70 points from 8th in the standings, the cutoff to make the NCWTS Chase. He needs a win.
Austin Hill was on the entry list for the race, but his family-owned team withdrew.
Next: Time for another dose of plate racing at Daytona. The NSCS runs Saturday night at 7:45 p.m. on NBC, MRN, and Sirius/XM Ch. 90, as NBC takes the reigns from FOX. Friday night's race for the Xfinity Series is at 7:30 on NBCSN and MRN and Sirius/XM 90. The NCWTS need a week off and get it. They return at Kentucky Speedway in two weeks.