Tony Stewart admitted on Friday afternoon that he simply didn’t enjoy racing at the Sprint Cup level anymore. The three-time champion had gone three years without a victory and has rarely even been competitive during that stretch.
That all ended on Sunday at Sonoma. Smoke held off a hard-charging Denny Hamlin after both drivers traded off the lead during the final lap.
“They’re all good; it doesn’t matter where you get them,” Stewart said after the win. “But, we ran close to those guys all day. We just got stuck back in traffic. It’s pretty ironic the last one we got was in a Code 3 car and I’m proud to do it again.”
Before heading to victory lane, Stewart had to endure a last-lap battle with Denny Hamlin. Hamlin moved Stewart and took the lead on the final lap, but Stewart, ultimately, returned the favor to retake the lead and drive to the win.
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Hamlin finished second, Joey Logano was third, Martin Truex Jr. fourth, and Carl Edwards finished fifth, respectively.
“He’s in his final season, so his give a shit factor is probably pretty low,” Hamlin said of Stewart. ”
Stewart made a pit stop with 24 laps remaining in the 110-lap race. A yellow flag was displayed for debris a lap later, and when his fellow-competitors headed to pit road, Stewart stayed out and inherited the lead.
The yellow flag waved one more time on lap 92, and Stewart had Hamlin alongside him on the front row for the restart. Truex, though, took second from Hamlin when the race returned to green and pressed Stewart for the lead.
Hamlin was able to get back by Truex for the second spot inside 10 laps to go, and with Hamlin and Truex battling for the runner-up position, Stewart pulled away. Hamlin was able to finally shake Truex and close in on Stewart.
Hamlin had taken the race lead on lap 50 and led most of the laps until Stewart inherited his lead. Danica Patrick did lead a handful of laps by staying out longer during a cycle of green-flag pit stops that got underway around lap 68. On lap 76, Hamlin got by Patrick, who still hadn’t pitted, to retake his lead.
But the man who took the entire day was Smoke, who is now just a few points away from being inside the top 30 in the points standings. If he can remain consistently inside the top 20 throughout the rest of the year, Stewart should be nearly a lock to make the Chase in his final season after missing the first several months with a back injury.