Tony Stewart, who is set to retire at the end of the year, ended an 84-race winless streak at Sonoma Raceway on June 26, and Denny Hamlin said on Thursday that he did not let the feel-good story happen on purpose.
Hamlin overtook Stewart for the lead on the final lap, and he held a solid advantage before a wide turn allowed Stewart to make a late pass and win the Toyota/Save Mart 350.
It was Stewart's last race at Sonoma, where he has won three times.
Some on social media accused Hamlin of conceding the race to Stewart, which he denied, per ESPN.com's Bob Pockrass:
I didn't let Tony win. I made a mistake. I didn't execute very good. ... He had an opportunity, he took it. If I'm in his situation, I'd probably do it the same. My biggest mistake, I feel like, is not recognizing the gap that I had behind me. ... I'd love to have that situation back again. But I really just didn't know the proper move. I thought I had two car-lengths. Looking back at the video, I probably had three and that is kind of the point you can just run your own corner and maybe be OK. I knew he was going to throw caution to the wind, I literally looked up and went to my same braking point and I wheel-hopped again. ... I just made a mistake being in a position I've never been in before.
Hamlin has never won on a road-course track.
Fox Sports provided a look at the events in question:
The win was huge for Stewart, who now can qualify for the Chase for the Sprint Cup if he finishes in the top 30 in the final standings (he is currently in 32nd).
He commented on his triumph after the race, per Jeff Gluck of USA Today: “To get a win, especially at a place you're going to for the last time, it means a bunch. It's special, trust me.”
The notion that an accomplished driver like Hamlin threw the race is hard to believe. He has 27 career wins and 110 top-five finishes. Hamlin has the drive to win, and accusing him of compromising the integrity of the sport is a bit out of line.
Hamlin is also not in any position to throw away points this season, as he sits in 11th in the Sprint Cup standings.
Statistics are courtesy of Racing-Reference.com.