Thursday, July 19, 2018
Sports

Tony Stewart ends 84-race drought with dramatic Sprint Cup win at Sonoma

SONOMA, Calif. — For at least one weekend, "Smoke" was back.

Tony Stewart returned to Victory Lane in Sprint Cup for the first time in three years in vintage fashion Sunday — refusing to let Denny Hamlin steal a win away at Sonoma Raceway on the final lap.

Now Stewart, 45, might have a shot at a fourth NASCAR title in his final season before retirement.

Stewart, mired in an 84-race skid dating to 2013, won the Toyota/Save Mart 350 to stop a slide of poor performances, injuries and personal turmoil that has tarnished the end of his career. He missed the first eight races this season with a back injury suffered in February in an off-road wreck.

Stewart, like eventual champion Kyle Busch last year, now has to crack the top 30 in points to convert his win into a Chase for the Championship berth. He moved up to 32nd in the standings Sunday, nine points out of 30th.

"My guys have been through this whole disastrous roller-coaster the last three or four years and never backed down. They've never quit on me. There's days I've quit on myself," Stewart said. "In this day of social media where everybody is a cricket … on social media, they sit there and chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp until they are in front of you and then they don't say a damned word. I listened to people say I'm old and washed up — I know how old I am, I know I haven't ran good for the last three years."

Anyone who has followed his career knows that Stewart is best when he's in a bad mood, and Smoke was ornery all weekend in wine country. He complained about young drivers, snarked that NASCAR will have no tough guys once he retires and grumbled he has no fun in a Cup car anymore.

Well, he sure had fun Sunday.

The co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing took the lead on fuel strategy during a caution with 24 laps left and held on.

Hamlin made it interesting by pouncing on a Stewart mistake to snatch the lead in Turn 7 on the final lap. Stewart grabbed it back in tricky Turn 11, diving to Hamlin's inside then pushing him toward the wall on the exit.

"I made mistakes the last two laps, I had just a little bit too much rear brake for Turn 7, and wheel-hopped it two laps in a row," Stewart said.

It was Stewart's 49th career Cup win and eighth on a road course, one shy of Jeff Gordon's record.

Dozens of foes pumped their fists out their window to salute Stewart on his victory lap as his father, Nelson, wiped away tears.

"To have three cars in the Chase, to have Tony's confidence up, to have him battle Denny Hamlin like that, this is the best way for a champion like him to go out," teammate Kurt Busch said. "He deserves this now."

"Just stoked for him," six-time champion Jimmie Johnson said. "He is a great friend and has been through so much."

Hamlin, Stewart's former teammate who has become somewhat of a protector to his one-time mentor, indicated no hard feelings. Hamlin said he made a mistake in letting Stewart snatch the lead.

"Looking in the rearview more than looking out front," Hamlin said. "I just slid up a little bit in the middle and allowed him to get inside me. I knew he was going to put me in the wall. All is fair in love and war."

Comments
Rex Culpepper returns as Syracuse’s latest cancer conqueror

Rex Culpepper returns as Syracuse’s latest cancer conqueror

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Initially, Syracuse senior Eric Dungey thought it was a joke in poor taste. He had come to accept fellow quarterback Rex Culpepper as a prankster of sorts, but a crack about cancer? C'mon."I was like, 'You took this one t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Quarterback rankings: The best seasons in Buccaneers history

Quarterback rankings: The best seasons in Buccaneers history

It was Dec. 20, 1981, the final Sunday of the NFL regular season, and the NFC Central title was on the line. The Buccaneers were in Detroit, where the Lions hadn’t lost all season.The Lions, who were favored by a touchdown, took a 7-3 lead in t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Willie Taggart, Auggie Sanchez reuniting in Tallahassee

Willie Taggart, Auggie Sanchez reuniting in Tallahassee

In a previous life, Auggie Sanchez was a disillusioned USF fullback pondering a transfer.Willie Taggart talked him into staying, obliging his desire to move to defense. A half-decade and 388 tackles later, Taggart is trying to help shape the trajecto...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay softball team

Tampa Bay Times’ all-Tampa Bay softball team

Hillsborough Pitcher of the Year: Ashley Blessin, Jr., Plant CityUsing her vast arsenal of pitches, Blessin went 21-6 with a 0.90 ERA and had 245 strikeouts in 162.2 innings pitched for the Class 8A, District 6 champion.Blessin was the reigning two-t...
Updated: 4 hours ago
ESPYs host Danica Patrick falls flat in opening monologue

ESPYs host Danica Patrick falls flat in opening monologue

LOS ANGELES — Danica Patrick’s monologue to open the ESPYs went over like, well, a flat tire at the Indianapolis 500. The newly retired racecar driver was the first woman to host the annual show honoring the past year’s best athletes and moments on W...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Dodgers land All-Star shortstop Manny Machado from Orioles

Dodgers land All-Star shortstop Manny Machado from Orioles

The Los Angeles Dodgers won the Manny Machado sweepstakes, getting the prized All-Star shortstop from the Baltimore Orioles in a trade Wednesday night. The Orioles received five prospects: outfielder Yusniel Diaz, right-handers Dean Kremer and Zach P...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Mailbag: Bucs camp, Erik Karlsson, British Open, more

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Mailbag: Bucs camp, Erik Karlsson, British Open, more

Besides Jameis Winston, what is the biggest storyline for the Bucs entering training camp? How would you describe the Rays season in one word?Is the Lightning deal for Erik Karlsson dead? Who will win the British Open? Rick Stroud answers these quest...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Free passes to Bucs training camp already going fast

Free passes to Bucs training camp already going fast

Those free passes to a limited window for the general public to see the Bucs practice in training camp are already almost gone.Last month, the team announced that only six practices would be open to the  general public, with fans required to go ...
Updated: 7 hours ago
Sex abuse victims join hands, accept courage award at ESPYs

Sex abuse victims join hands, accept courage award at ESPYs

LOS ANGELES — More than 140 survivors of sexual abuse by a former team doctor for USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University joined hands on stage to be honored with the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the ESPYs. The women who spoke out against th...
Updated: 7 hours ago
ACC Kickoff: ‘Canes WR Ahmmon Richards 100 percent again

ACC Kickoff: ‘Canes WR Ahmmon Richards 100 percent again

Greetings from Charlotte, N.C., where Day Two of the ACC Kickoff commences in a few hours. Dabo Swinney and Willie Taggart, among others, take center stage at the Westin Charlotte today, so stay tuned to us throughout the day and evening for stories,...
Updated: 9 hours ago