Hamlin: ‘I didn’t let Tony win, I made a mistake’

OK, conspiracy theorists, you can stand down now.

Tony Stewart did not get "the call" at Sonoma Raceway last week, where he broke a three-year losing streak with a last-lap, last-corner pass of Denny Hamlin to win the Toyota/Save Mart 350.

And, no, Hamlin didn’t let Stewart win.

Stewart simply beat him, period.

That’s what Hamlin said Friday at Daytona International Speedway and it was clear he meant it.

Hamlin passed Stewart in Turn 7 on the last lap at Sonoma and then ran wide in Turn 11, with Stewart going underneath Hamlin’s Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to make the winning pass on the 1,100th and final corner of the race.

The fact that Hamlin took the lead and then lost it on the same lap caused a firestorm of debate on social media, especially after Hamlin went over to Stewart’s car right after the finish and congratulated his former teammate on the victory.

But Hamlin said there was nothing to the chatter.

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"I didn’t let Tony win," said Hamlin. "I made a mistake. I didn’t execute very good. Ultimately, I felt that even though I made a mistake, we would maybe drag race to the (start-finish) line because we were in the center of the corner side by side."

But that’s not how it wound up.

"I was thinking, ‘This could be good,’ but once I saw him steer left, I knew that was over with," said Hamlin. "He had an opportunity. He took it. I mean, if I’m in his situation, I’d probably do it the same."

Hamlin blamed himself for letting the victory elude him.

"My biggest mistake, I feel like is not recognizing the gap that I had behind me," said Hamlin. "I don’t know whether Tony would have got there or not. I thought that it would have been very close.

"If he really wanted to carry the car down in there, whether he still would have got there or not," said Hamlin. "I still needed to execute to make him make that decision. Instead, I kind of made the decision for him."

Hamlin won the Daytona 500 in February but in his career has never won on a road course and he said that hampered him in his duel with Stewart.

"I’ve never been in that position before. I’ve not been that competitive on road courses," said Hamlin. "And so, I didn’t know the proper defensive move going into the last corner. I’d love to have that situation back again. I really just didn’t know the proper move. … I just made a mistake being in a position I’ve never been in before."