NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Toyota/SaveMart 300, Sonoma Raceway
In what can only be described as the ‘feel good’ story of the year, Tony Stewart reprised his career at the Toyota/SaveMart 300 at Sonoma Raceway winning the race doing it in his no holds barred style dueling with Denny Hamlin in a fight to the finish.
The crowd roared their approval seeing Hamlin going in the final turns struggling with his Toyota wheel hopping, locking up on the right front skidding high. That was just what Tony Stewart was looking for taking his chance pushing his Chevy alongside muscling his way through to win his first race since the 2013 Sonoma event snapping an 84-race winless streak in his final season in NASCAR.
“I made mistakes the last two laps,” acknowledged Stewart, who missed the first eight races of the season after injuring his back in an ATV accident during the offseason. “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.”
It was the call by rookie crew chief Mike Bugarewicz to pit from 18th place on lap 85 in hopes another caution would fly and it did putting Stewart up front for the lap 91 restart of the 110-lap race with new tires and full tank. He was already pumped to get the day started and ended it just right collecting his 49th Sprint Cup win and third overall at Sonoma.
Though disappointed at the outcome, Hamlin didn’t begrudge Stewart the victory, given the circumstances. Stewart needed a win to qualify for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, and with Sunday’s result, Smoke is 32nd in the standings, nine points away from the 30th position he needs to achieve to become Chase-eligible.
“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 didn’t run a low enough line in Turn 11 from all the 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.”
The Sprint Cup series now kicks off the second half of the season next Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway for the Coke Zero 400.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Drivin’ for Linemen 200, Gateway Motorsports Park
Saturday night must have been all right for fighting at the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Drivin’ for Linemen 200 at Gateway Motorsports Park in nearby St. Louis with tempers about as hot as the Midwest heat.
Christopher Bell will go in the record books as the winner, but the race will be most remembered as the brawl between John Wes Townley and Spencer Gallagher. These two tangled earlier with Gallagher getting underneath Townley sending him into the third turn wall. By the time, Townley returned to the track for the restart with six laps remaining, he deliberately went after Gallagher spinning and crashing him exiting turn one.
The pair got out of their wrecked trucks when fisticuffs quickly started flying with Townley making the approach to Gallagher’s truck with both ending up on the track wrestling. As the pair got back on their feet Townley wasn’t through and continued his barrage of bare-knuckle strikes at Gallagher’s face. After a quick trip to the infield medical center, both drivers were escorted to the NASCAR trailer to put an official end to this fracas.
It seemed to the be the theme of the evening at GMP with the youthful drivers taking the role as the aggressors with plenty of novice moves causing a body’s man nightmare with all the damaged sheet metal that abounded accounting for the seven cautions that had occurred in the race.
Ben Rhodes finished second with Daniel Hemric, Johnny Sauter and John Hunter Nemechek rounding out the top five.
Bell won his second career Truck race taking last year’s MidSummer Classic at the dirt track at Eldora Speedway and by winning on Saturday marked Kyle Busch Motorsports’ 50th team win on Saturday. In addition, now Bell’s No. 4 Toyota has joined the Camping World Truck Chase as the No. 5 entrant of eight.
“We’ve been so fast all year long and I just kept making a lot of mistakes,” said a happy Bell. “Track position was everything. We got awesome motors underneath the hood of these things and all the guys at JGR, they never give up and keep digging.”
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will take a one-week breather before returning to competition at Kentucky Speedway on Thurs., July 7 for the Buckle Up Your Truck 225.