Tony Stewart drove into Victory Lane for the first time in more than three years on Sunday and it seemed like just about everyone on pit road joined the celebration.
The last three seasons haven't been easy for the three-time champion. In 2013, his season was cut short after breaking bones in his lower right leg, ending his streak of 521 consecutive starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. In 2014, he was winless for the first time in 15 years. And unfortunately, his winless season was relived again last year.
Breaking an 84-race winless streak is a reason to celebrate, but an even bigger reason for Stewart is he may be regaining his championship form.
Throughout the week in Sonoma, Stewart spoke about how he's becoming nostalgic as he races at tracks for the last time but also talking about how he's ready to move on.
“I’m ready to go run stuff that makes me happy, and driving a Sprint Cup car does not make me happy right now,” Stewart told the media in Northern California. “A lot of things have changed. The atmosphere has changed. There’s so much stuff in the garage area that’s changed that it was time for me to make a change with it."
One thing was obvious on Sunday after he won: he was happy and so were a lot of his colleagues in the sport.
“We’re probably witnessing a historic moment right now in NASCAR,” said Joey Logano, after finishing in third place at Sonoma. “It was a really cool thing for Tony to be able to come back and get that win."
Following his exciting bump-and-run finish in the final lap at Sonoma, several drivers came to the finish line to congratulate Stewart. Even pit crews from other teams came over to high-five the veteran driver.
It'll be interesting to see if finally making it back into Victory Lane will kick-start Stewart as he looks for his fourth championship. Currently, Stewart is just nine spots out of the Top 30 in points,which he will need to maintain through the final 10 races before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup begins.
“Listening to people say I’m old and washed up — I know how old I am and I know I haven’t run good for the last three years,” said Stewart after his win. “But I felt like if we got things right, it was still there.”
With his win at Sonoma, Stewart proved he can get it right. With his championship history, anything is possible and all he needs is a chance. Stewart's chances continue to look better and better.
Next up for Stewart is Daytona for the Coke Zero 400, where he has won the July race four times in his career. It will be the last time he races at Daytona and the first time this season, as he missed the first eight races of the year with an injury. A win at Daytona would solidify his spot in the Chase and make him a serious contender for the first time since 2011, the last time he won the title. That year, Stewart won five races, all of which were in the Chase.
The Coke Zero 400 airs on NBC this Saturday at 6:45 PM CT from Daytona International Speedway.