SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY, CA – In an afternoon filled with breath-taking action and heart-stopping drama on the final lap, Kyle Busch (No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota) recorded his ninth career weekend sweep of the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races and snapped a 31-race NSCS winless streak by taking the checkered flag in Sunday’s 17th-annual Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
A day after winning his 54th NASCAR NNS Series race in the Royal Purple 300, Busch led most of Sunday’s race — 125 of the 200 laps – but regained the lead on the final lap after Joey Logano (No. 22 AAA Southern California Ford) and Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota) took each other out to secure his 25th NSCS victory and put Toyota/Joe Gibbs Racing into Victory Lane for the first time — in 11 NSCS races — at Auto Club Speedway.
“What a great day. It’s great to sweep the weekend,” said Busch, who is tied with Matt Kenseth, Jim Paschal and Joe Weatherly for 24th in all-time Sprint Cup victories. “To finally win it, it’s been a couple years in the making. Can’t say enough about Joe Gibbs Racing. Being right here in California, finally we get a home win for Toyota. Finally we get a win for Joe. Joe, this one is for you. I drove my butt off for you.”
One of the most exciting Sprint Cup races ever at Auto Club Speedway reached its thrilling climax as Logano and pole-sitter Hamlin went fender-to-fender for the lead over the race’s last few laps. The drivers’ bad blood toward each other that came out of last week’s race at Bristol underscored the racing drama between the two.
Side-by-side coming out of turn three and jockeying for the lead, the two tapped each other enough on the last lap to send Logano into the outside wall and Hamlin skidding into a head-on collision with the inside wall. It enabled Busch to emerge as the leader and hold on for the checkered flag.
“I didn’t think that was going to happen,” Busch said. “I don’t know what their issue is or what their problem is. They were messing with each other so much, I was able to inch up and get closer. When they went to the bottom side, I said I could get through this. They crashed each other out going for the win. Fortunately, I was in the right spot. I drove around the outside of them as they were crashing. (I was thinking) ‘you ain’t gonna win, and you ain’t gonna win.’ I hope Denny’s gonna be alright.”
Meanwhile, Hamlin was alert as he was helped out of his car, loaded into an ambulance and airlifted to a local hospital, due to outgoing traffic from Auto Club Speedway, for precautionary reasons and further evaluation.
Then, immediately after the chaotic final lap, Tony Stewart (No. 14 Rush Truck Centers/MOBIL 1 Chevrolet) and Logano, who placed third, were seen in an immediate post-race altercation on pit row, with each driver being separated by their pit crews.
Coming out of the final restart on lap 190, Joey Logano, who led for 41 laps of the race, blocked a hard-charging Tony Stewart in order to protect his line, then tried to overtake Busch on the inside. He did temporarily until Busch grabbed it back seconds later.
“Just racing hard, trying to win the race,” said Logano of his cutting off of Stewart. “I wanted to block that because I knew if he put me three-wide, that would be the end of my race and I wouldn’t win. I was smart enough to realize that. I understand that he’s frustrated and he’s angry and I’ll talk to him about that. I had to do what I had to do.”
Replied Stewart, who finished 22nd: “Joey spun the tires on the restart. For a guy who’s been complaining about how everyone else is driving here, and for him to do that, it’s a double standard. He sent Denny to the hospital and screwed our day up. And then he threw a water bottle at me. After he threw the water bottle at me like a little girl, I have nothing to say to him right now. It’s time he learned a lesson.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 National Guard Chevrolet) wound up finishing runner-up, taking the NSCS points lead by 12 points over Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Ford) and securing his fifth top-10 finish in as many races to open the 2013 NSCS season.
The race featured nine caution flags for a total of 35 laps.
From Joann Young / Auto Club Speedway