Kyle Busch was not going to be denied on Sunday — but Joey Logano made damn sure that Denny Hamlin was.
“I did win the race today, by the way, so that might be a story,” Busch said with a laugh. “But I’m sure it’s not.”
Busch had the lead for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Auto Club 400 final restart on Lap 190.
And that’s when the fireworks began.
Although Busch had the dominant car, Logano was a contender and restarting on the front row. He knew he had to hold off Tony Stewart, who lined up behind him, to win the race. Logano laid a block on the restart on Stewart in an attempt to hold his position and take the victory.
While Stewart stewed over the closing laps, Busch just had to be patient. Given the ongoing feud between Logano and Hamlin, Busch knew his opportunity would come.
On the white-flag lap, it did as Hamlin and Logano bounced off each other. Busch took the lead as Hamlin and Logano wrecked each other, with Hamlin hitting the wall hard. Hamlin was airlifted to a local hospital after the race after complaining of lower back pain. He was to remain at the hospital overnight for observation.
"When they both went to the bottom side of (Turns) 3 and 4 — I’m like, ‘Oh man, this is golden,” Busch said. “I got enough up here I can make this happen.’ Lo and behold, I put my foot to it and drove around the outside of them before they started crashing or maybe as they were crashing, I’m not sure.
“… We weren’t going to win if it wasn’t for those two battling. If they would have been single file and just racing, it would have went down in order.”
It didn’t, and then Logano had to deal with Stewart, who came looking for him on pit road.
Logano’s spotter, Tab Boyd, couldn’t believe what he saw on pit road as he radioed, “What’s the 14 doing? The 14 got us blocked down there. I don’t know what his problem is.”
Neither did Logano.
“I had no clue what he was mad about,” Logano said. "I watched the replay. I can understand being a little irritated but in my eyes that’s just racing. In his eyes it isn’t. I’m going to have to talk to him about that. We’ve always gotten along really well, so I’ll see if we can work this one out.”
With Stewart’s response to FOXSports.com’s Steve Byrnes, that doesn’t seem likely any time soon.
“What the hell do you think I was mad about?” Stewart said. “Dumb (expletive) runs us clear down to the infield. He wants to (expletive) about everybody else and he’s the one who drives like a little (expletive). I’m going to bust his ass.”
Logano’s relationship with his former teammate Hamlin shows no signs of a resolution any time soon either. After all, Logano’s mission was to deny Hamlin the win on Sunday.
“Denny Hamlin was not going to win that race, no,” Logano said. “I wanted to win that race and I had the car to win that race.”
Ironically, neither Logano, Stewart nor representatives from Joe Gibbs Racing were called to the NASCAR hauler to speak with series officials after the race. Then again, JGR was pulled between celebrating Busch’s second win of the weekend at Auto Club Speedway and Toyota’s first victory at its home track.
The incidents were just the latest for the day at Auto Club Speedway.
With nine cautions over 400 miles, tempers flared as drivers jockeyed for position on the 2-mile track. Greg Biffle bumped into his former teammate Matt Kenseth, resulting in a cut tire for Kenseth. Kevin Harvick delivered a blow to the back of Dale Earnhardt Jr. that sent NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver to the pits as well. Timmy Hill dropped oil on the track resulting in problems for several contenders including last week’s winner Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer and Mark Martin.
Then there were pit-road penalties and mishaps for Kurt Busch, Harvick, Keselowski, Martin and Hamlin, plus an uncharacteristic miscue by the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports squad that mired Junior – who entered pit road third — back in 22nd when the team had issues with the right rear tire.
“Oh, man,” Earnhardt sighed before the Lap 122 restart, but then he rallied his crew.
“Shake it off,” Junior said. “We’ll do everything we can right here and get it better.”
And he did. Earnhardt cut through traffic, remained focused and made the most of the cautions with pit strategy over the final 78 laps to salvage his second, second-place finish of the season and the points lead in the process.
But the final results weren’t settled until long after NASCAR brought Kurt Busch in as the race’s third-place finisher, followed by Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle. After further review — and Stewart driving up to Logano’s car to prevent the 22-year-old’s exit — a new race report moved the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford to third followed by Edwards and Busch. Biffle was scored sixth.
For Kyle Busch, who built such a dramatic advantage in the first 25 laps of the race that his crew chief Dave Rogers insisted he “back it down” because the competition couldn’t touch him, winning his 25th career Cup victory and moving up to sixth in the point standings was a gift — and a well-deserved one at that.
“I didn’t think that was going to happen,” Busch said. “I don’t know what the issue is — what the problem is. It’s unfortunate for those two. I think the mentality between the two of them was, ‘We’re both not going to win this race because we’re going to crash each other trying for ourselves’ and they gave it to the third-place guy.
“Unfortunately, I was in the right place and the right time.”
What’s more disappointing, however, is that with a week off in the Sprint Cup schedule fans will have to wait almost two weeks until the next race at Martinsville Speedway.