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The most exciting, incredible, and stunning last lap ever to occur at the Auto Club Speedway took place Sunday afternoon. A mass of storylines came out from the final lap after rivals wrecked each other, the third place driver coming into the final lap took the win and Smoke threw a punch on pit road. Fontana is never known for “exciting” races but, Sunday’s race was the most thrilling race to ever take place at the Auto Club Speedway.
The race leading up to the final lap had a little extra something that Fontana races never seem to have and that was likely a result of the Gen 6 car. NASCAR showed-off what the Gen 6 car was all about during this race mainly due to the incredible restarts and racing that was on display throughout the race. Leading up to the final lap, this race would have been considered one of the best at Fontana in the track’s history but, the last lap made this race the best that the Auto Club Speedway has ever had.
Kyle Busch got to the lead right off of the bat when he took the lead from his teammate Matt Kenseth on lap 11. Busch led until Joey Logano was able to pass him on lap 45. Busch was able to regain the lead after the first round of green-flag pit stops occurred on lap 65. He continued to lead throughout the mid-part of the race and he led up until the action started to pick up with just under 70 laps to go.
A strategic pit stop put Tony Stewart in the lead after a caution with 70 laps to go. Stewart, along with a few other drivers, took two tires and they were up front on the ensuing restart. Smoke stayed up front until there were 53 laps to go when eventual race winner Kyle Busch regained the lead. Busch was able to remain up front through the final round of pit stops but, when some drivers came down pit road under a late caution and Busch stayed out, he had older tires than some of the other drivers who would soon be challenging him for the lead.
Yellow flag number eight came out with 15 laps to go for Clint Bowyer who blew an engine and spun out in turn 3. That ended up being the final caution of the day and Kyle Busch led on the next restart. A move that didn’t seem too problematic when it happened occurred on the final restart when Joey Logano put a big block on Tony Stewart heading down into turn 1. Once the race concluded, that incident came up on pit road and a few punches were thrown.
On the restart, Kyle Busch started to pull and it looked like he wouldn’t be caught. Just a few laps after Busch started to pull away, Logano caught up to him and started to challenge him for the lead. While these former teammates started to battle for the lead, Hamlin caught up to them with six laps to go. Hamlin and Logano didn’t get along too well following last weekend’s race at Bristol and their rivalry caused both drivers to miss out on a victory today.
Busch started to fade in the closing laps but, as soon as Hamlin and Logano went door-to-door for the lead, Busch caught right back up. Hamlin and Logano were side-by-side when they took the white flag and a little contact was made as they sailed off into turn 1. They continued to stay side by side down the backstretch and by the time they reached turn 3; neither driver was going to let the other one win. Logano slid up into Hamlin in turn 3 and that caused both of the drivers to slide up into the wall. Seconds before Hamlin and Logano slid up into the wall, Kyle Busch motored by on the outside and his sights were set on the checkered flag.
Hamlin and Logano both wrecked in turn 4 after they took each other out and Hamlin took a viscous hit to the concrete wall that had no SAFER barriers on it prior to pit entrance. Hamlin’s car hit the wall nose first and the car’s front tires went airborne and touched back on the ground seconds later. Logano was able to escape with just slapping into the turn 4 wall and he finished third. Hamlin’s car was destroyed after his hard impact and once Hamlin got out of the car under his own power, he slowly collapsed on the ground.
Hamlin was obviously hurt in the wreck and he had to be carried to the ambulance on a stretcher. He was awake and alert in the infield care center and he was going to be transported to a local hospital for further observations. More information on Hamlin’s condition will likely be reported later tonight or tomorrow morning.
While the wreck occurred in turn 3 and 4, Kyle Busch was able to cross the finish line first and take home his first Sprint Cup Series win since last April at Richmond. Besides being a huge win for Busch, this was Toyota’s first ever win at the Auto Club Speedway. Obviously, this win meant a lot for Busch and his team. This victory also meant that Busch had swept the weekend races at Fontana. A statistic that Busch is used to hearing. The success that Busch has experienced so far this season is quite remarkable and one of the most frightening things about it is that we’re only five races into the season. Busch is by far more focused than ever this season on winning.
Confrontation occurred following the dramatic final laps when Tony Stewart wanted to settle some unfinished business with Joey Logano. Logano had blocked Stewart on the final restart and that basically took Stewart’s chances of winning away. Stewart parked his car next to Logano’s following the race and Smoke approached Logano in a feisty fashion. The drivers exchanged some words before Stewart came in with a punch aimed at Logano and Logano swung back but, neither driver made contact with the other. Post-race interviews by both of the drivers proved that they weren’t at all happy. Stewart commented on the situation by saying “I’m going to bust his (Logano’s) ***.” Clearly, Stewart isn’t done with Logano.
Logano’s post race interview was more about the final lap and Logano said that “Denny was not going to win that race” and Logano made sure that happened by making contact with Hamlin in turn 3. Logano has found himself involved in post-race confrontations following both of the last two races and a different and angrier side of Logano has appeared this year. The two feuds involving Logano have made storylines the last two weeks and we won’t be hearing the end of either situation for awhile.
The drivers did not leave Bristol at Bristol after last weekend’s race since the action and feuds were carried over to today’s race. Kyle Busch took his first win of the season while Tony Stewart took a swing at Joey Logano. This race was by far the most action-packed event of the season so far and the usual calm Fontana came alive during the Auto Club 400. An off-week is exactly what race fans don’t want to see after the last two races but, this off-week will be quite interesting after what we have seen during the past two races. Drivers will surely use this off-week to recuperate and get ready for the second short track race of the season in two weeks at Martinsville.