Stewart Finds His Way Back to Victory Lane

Stewart wins Save Mart 350

I know for myself and the rest of our FOX NASCAR team we were absolutely thrilled to get the Sonoma race back in our portion of the broadcast season. “I don’t have any confidence”.

That shell of Stewart was nowhere to be found at Sonoma over the weekend, where Smoke was in vintage form. He was cranky, candid and comical.

For Edwards, the best news might have come from the electronic race tracker, which showed that he was Saturday’s fastest driver in Turn 11, the right-handed hairpin that has produced a lot of race winners here, and even more wrecks. He ran up front before losing the top spot to Stewart, with the exception of laps during a cycle of green-flag pit stops around lap 70.

Less than a mile later, Stewart got him back. Some ran to his vehicle, or met him in victory lane. “I love it when he’s … like what’s interesting is in MI, I’ve never heard him so happy”.

No one loved Stewart’s latest tirade more than one of his old rivals – Jeff Gordon. “Yeah, I mean, we’re here to win this race”.

“Tony has been ultra-fair to me”. Hamlin said. “This is by far the best he’s run all year, and he’s in his final season, so his give a (crap) factor is probably really low”. “I was going to kick the door in or drive a bulldozer through it”. “We just got to go out and have a solid day”. While Stewart satisfied the first requirement of qualifying for the Chase by winning, the three-time champion must still established a position among the top 30 in Sprint Cup points. There’s days I’ve quit on myself, ” Stewart said.

Stewart first bumped Ward’s vehicle and knocked it out of the race. He’s facing a civil suit filed by the driver’s family. This year he missed the first eight events of the season after breaking his back in an accident while riding an all-terrain vehicle.

Hamlin battled Stewart hard for the win, and the two drivers made contact on the final lap.

The first risky move came when Mike Bugarewicz, the crew chief for Stewart’s No. 14 Code 3 Assoc/Mobile 1 Chevrolet, brought Stewart into the pits for fresh tires with about 25 laps to go.

No one thought there would ever be another Foyt, but Stewart proved them wrong.

So did Hamlin, a former teammate of Stewart’s who has become somewhat of a protector to his one-time mentor.

Playing it safe never appealed to Stewart, and he never backed down to corporate pressure. There’s been no fine big enough to make Stewart play Mr. Nice Guy, and NASCAR popped him for $35,000 days before his return to the vehicle this year for criticizing what he felt was a lack of attention to a safety issue.

He complained about young drivers, snarked that NASCAR will be without any tough guys once he retires and grumbled he has no fun driving a Cup auto anymore. That’s the way Stewart learned, and he doesn’t understand why current drivers don’t follow the same rules.

The driver noted it himself in a pre-race interview with Fox Sports, when he said after his retirement in November – in the wake of Jeff Gordon’s retirement a year ago – there would be no one left in the sport that was willing to take a stand.

Stewart is right. He’s a dying breed, a throwback to the golden era, a bull in the china shop who should be revered as a rare gem.