Kyle Busch, driving the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry, took his second checkered flag of the weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, winning the Auto Club 400 on Sunday after taking the Nationwide Series Royal Purple 300 on Saturday for Joe Gibbs Racing. For the second week in a row, late-race controversy centered on Joey Logano after two separate incidents involving Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin.
The first incident with Stewart took place on a restart on Lap 190, as Logano threw numerous blocks on Stewart at the bottom of the track. Stewart suffered because of it, losing momentum and dropping through the field; Stewart was credited with a 22nd-place finish.
In the final laps of the race, Logano was battling Hamlin for the lead, with Busch closing in on the pair. With less than a lap remaining, the two combatants from last week’s race at Bristol came together, giving Busch a chance to sneak through at the top of the track. In the aftermath of Logano-Hamlin Round Two, Hamlin hit the inside wall hard; he was able to exit his car on his own, but immediately fell to the ground. He was taken from his car on a backboard and airlifted to a nearby hospital for observation; no word on his condition yet, other than he is awake and alert.
Stewart wasn’t done with Logano, however, as the drivers got into a shoving match on pit road after the race. Both drivers threw punches, and Logano threw a water bottle at Stewart before being separated by their crew members.
“For a guy that’s been complaining about how everyone else is driving here, and him to do that, it’s a double standard,” said Stewart. “He makes the choice. He makes the decision to run us down there (to the apron), and when you run a driver down there, you take responsibility for what happens after that. He’s a tough guy on pit road, as soon as one of his crew guys gets in the middle of it. Until then, he’s a scared little kid.”
Logano, of course, had a different view of things. “Racing for the lead – going for the win,” said Logano. “That’s what you’ve got to do … Tony was just upset about a restart, that I was racing him really hard on the bottom trying to make sure I protected my spot. What I was doing actually was I was racing the 18 (Kyle Busch) on the restart and he was spinning his tires.”
“The rule is you can’t beat him to the start-finish line, so I am pedaling it, which gave Tony the run to go underneath me,” continued Logano. “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. Then I had to just do what I had to do to get to the front and try to win the race.”
Busch led 125 laps in the 200-lap event, giving JGR its first Cup Series win at Auto Club Speedway; the team has won the last nine Nationwide Series races at the two-mile track. It was the sixth time Busch has swept a NASCAR race weekend. Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second, while Logano is credited with third. Carl Edwards finished fourth and Kurt Busch, who came back from both a brush with the wall and a pit road speeding penalty, finished fifth.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to the track on Sunday, April 7th at Martinsville Speedway. Stay up-to-date at www.nascar.com.
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