Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Teardown Tuesday: Breaking Down the NASCAR Race Weekend at Sonoma and Gateway

Miss any of the on and off-track action at Sonoma Raceway or Gateway Motorsports Park? Every Tuesday our Amy Branch breaks down the big storylines from the weekend.

Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images

Smoke Will Rise

It's been a long, difficult three years for Tony Stewart and his fans. After two severe injuries and unimaginable tragedy, Stewart broke an 84-race winless streak Sunday at Sonoma Raceway in his final start there during this, his final season. He missed the first eight races after breaking his back in an off-track accident, and just like Kyle Busch did last year after his return from injury, Stewart won his first race of the season at Sonoma Raceway. Similar to Jeff Gordon in 2015, Stewart's final season could turn into one last championship run.

A strategic (and lucky) call by rookie crew chief Mike Bugarewicz to pit just before a debris caution put Stewart in the lead on fresh tires after the rest of the field pitted under the caution.

Stewart leading the field rarely bodes well for the drivers behind him; he is as tenacious as a bulldog and passing him is nigh-on impossible ... unless he makes a mistake. Nearing the end of the race, he did, giving second-place Denny Hamlin the chance to pass. Stewart bided his time, wheeling his No. 14 Code 3 Chevrolet flawlessly around the twists and turns of Sonoma's road course.

Stewart patiently waited for Hamlin to make a mistake, and on turn 11 of the final lap, the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing driver did just that -- Hamlin wheel-hopped and took the corner wide. In a classic Stewart move, the Stewart-Haas owner-driver slammed Hamlin out of the way, took the corner, and sailed past the checkered flag to win the Save Mart 350.

You could almost hear the collective NASCAR nation jump to its feet and cheer. Love him or hate him, Stewart is a legend, and seeing him win in his final season -- even if only once -- is the kind of feel-good story fans live for. Stewart's family and crew, cheering him on from his pit box, were beside themselves with emotion.

"It's been a tough three years not just for him but everyone that's close to him," Stewart's father said. "I don't know what to say. We all needed that bad. He really needed that bad."

Could this be Stewart's last Sprint Cup win? Maybe, but few drivers capitalize on confidence as well as Tony Stewart. Could this be another 2011? Maybe; he is eligible for the Chase via a NASCAR waiver, and summertime is when he usually catches fire and starts tearing up the circuit with wins.

The only thing for certain is that this race win was a sweet one, which Stewart and his fans will savor like a fine wine for a long time to come.

... Fight?

It was no Tyson vs. Holyfield.

It was more like a slow, aggressive waltz down the banking of Gateway Motorsports Park in St. Louis near the end of the Camping World Truck Series race. Spencer Gallagher and John Wes Townley tangled twice during Saturday's Drivin' for Linemen 200. The second incident put both trucks in the garage; but not before Townley and Gallagher started wrestling on the track. Townley went after Gallagher and the two grappled for a short while before Townley executed a WWE-style "DDT" on Gallagher and dropped him to the ground. Strangely, Townley was smiling during some of the "fight." Perhaps Gallagher said something funny, or maybe Townley recognized the sight the two of them must be making before the world.

They struggled back up from a prone position, and danced around in a bear hug for what seemed like an inordinately long time. No officials were there yet to break up the disagreement. Townley got a few punches in, and eventually the NASCAR officials came to break up the two fight-huggers.

Both drivers seemed rather relieved when walking away -- tired, hot, and maybe feeling a little silly, both Gallagher and Townley were ready for it to be over. Fortunately, neither driver was harmed during the dance-fight.

Monday, Gallagher apologized to Townley, his team, and his fans for the incident. Both drivers were called to the NASCAR hauler following the race, and fans can expect to see repercussions for both when penalties are doled out on Wednesday.

Bell rings victory bell in Missouri

After a rain delay and three red flags to clean up wrecks, Christopher Bell earned his first Camping World Truck Series victory of 2016 Saturday at St. Louis' Gateway Motorsports Park. Bell, driver of the No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota, survived a chaotic race which lasted well into the night to take the checkered flag. After a bold decision to restart on the inside lane, Bell took the lead on Lap 153 and held on to the end.

"This one's for my guys," the young driver from Norman, OK, said in Victory Lane. "My guys, they deserve this one. We've been so fast all year long and I just kept making a lot of mistakes. I just can't say thank you enough to all the guys at Toyota, TRD, JBL, everyone at KBM, all my pit crew guys they did an awesome job. 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 win makes Bell the fifth different driver to secure a spot in the Camping World Truck Series Chase. Bell is currently ninth in the standings.