Tony Stewart was the big winner in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, but he wasn’t the only one who saw his fortunes change direction at the twisty 10-turn, 1.99-mile Northern California road course.
Here are 10 winners and losers from Sunday’s epic battle that saw Stewart and runner-up Denny Hamlin swap the lead twice on the final lap.
WINNER — NASCAR might have been the biggest winner of all at Sonoma, because having Stewart in the Chase for the Sprint Cup in his final season is a great storyline, the same way Jeff Gordon winning the Martinsville Chase race last year was. A Stewart win builds huge momentum as NASCAR’s playoffs approach.
LOSER — Road-course ringers used to be a staple of the races at Sonoma and Watkins Glen. Not anymore. NASCAR’s current Chase format has rendered them pretty much obsolete. The only road-course ringer at Sonoma was Patrick Carpentier, and he finished 37th in the 40-car field.
WINNER — Stewart’s victory was as big for Stewart-Haas Racing as it was for him personally. The No.14 Chevrolet will likely now be in the Chase for the first time since 2012. That means millions of dollars in sponsor incentives, prize money and television exposure, plus it gives the team another driver with a chance to win the title.
LOSER — With the possible exception of Chase Elliott, anyone trying to make the Chase on points has to be worried now. Already, 11 different drivers have won points races, and there are 10 races left in the regular season. Every winless driver gets an extra knot in his stomach whenever there’s a new winner because it shrinks the number of spots available to get in the Chase on points alone.
WINNER — For the third week in a row, a Toyota didn’t win. But unlike the past two races, they were in it until the very end. Carl Edwards put his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota on the pole and four of the five factory Toyotas finished in the top seven. The only one to miss was Matt Kenseth, who is not a good road racer.
LOSER — It was another brutal outing for HScott Motorsports, as Clint Bowyer made it only five laps before an electrical fire knocked him out of the race. Bet he’s counting the days until he’s at Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017.
WINNER — Next year, SHR will be a Ford team. And the Ford executives in Dearborn have to be loving what they see out of this team, which now will almost certainly have three drivers in the Chase. "We didn’t just want another team," one Ford exec told me. "We wanted a championship-capable team." Well, they got one.
LOSER — The only Hendrick Motorsports driver to finish in the top 10 was Kasey Kahne, who was ninth. NASCAR’s most successful team now ranks behind Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske and Stewart-Haas Racing in wins this season.
WINNER — While it’s true that Denny Hamlin lost the race on the last corner of the last lap, he earned a lot of respect for not simply dumping Stewart in the closing laps, which he easily could have done. Plus, he was gracious afterwards and was one of the first to congratulate Stewart. All in all, a very classy performance by Hamlin.
LOSER — Let’s be honest here: For a small team like JTG Daugherty Racing, their best chances to win are on the road courses. But a pit-toad tire violation robbed the team and driver AJ Allmendinger of any hope of victory.