Busch wins, Logano gets learned again, Hamlin hurt
The Scoop: Kyle Busch leads the most laps, but fell back to 3rd on final restart. Last week’s enemies Joey Logano (pretty much the 2nd fastest car of the day) and Denny Hamlin (pole-sitter, who drove from 25th after late speeding penalty) took the race to the line. Logano had the Auto Club 400 won, but Hamlin (on fresher tires) caught him in the final two laps and they jostled for the top spot. Hamlin almost had him cleared, but Logano drove deep into the last turns, they touched, Hamlin pretty much turned him into the wall, and then wrecked nose-first into inside wall. Busch, who was closing in on the battle, drove by on their outside as they began to wreck for the win. Logano finished 6th, Hamlin 25th. After exiting the No. 11 FedEx Toyota, Hamlin dropped to the ground and the medics put him on a backboard and took him to the hospital – no word in his condition, but he was alert. Logano blocked Stewart on the final restart, somehow causing Stewart to fall to 22nd at the finish. He blocked Logano on pit road after the race and charged at him, throwing punches. The crews also began fighting and Logano threw a water bottle. There was plenty of sea-saw action through the pack in the late laps as drivers drove from 20th to the top 5 or the opposite again and again. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kurt Busch were two such drivers and they finished 2nd and 3rd. Earnhardt Jr. now leads the points as previous points leaders Brad Keselowski (23rd) and Jimmie Johnson (12th) had off days.
140 Characters or Less: Dominant Kyle Busch passes wrecking rivals to win at Cali. Stewart latest to teach Logano lesson. Hamlin in hospital. Junior leads points.
Handsome Boy Modeling School Stud of the Race: Kyle Busch – he won by capitalizing on Hamlin and Logano’s errors, led the most laps, and won the Nationwide race, too.
North Korean Missile Dud: Jimmie Johnson – his five wins and 14 top 10s in 19 career Fontana races make him a contender any time he is at his home track. Not Sunday. He started 18th and never got much better than that. He was as low as 26th at one point, but swung into the top 10 in the last two frantic restarts. He finished 12th, led zero laps, and sounded very disgruntled on the radio.
Never Fear, Underdogs Are Here: Dual title to Casey Mears (15th) and A.J. Allmendinger (16th) – Mears started 11th, fell back, but regained some zip at race’s end to get back into the top 15. Allmendinger started 26th, was top five in both Saturday practices, but hung about 16th most of the race and finished there. Both of them outhustled some other big teams who didn’t crash or break down.
You Can Comeback, But You Can’t Stay Here: Kurt Busch – Hung at or about his 10th place starting spot until a. - hitting the wall in someone else’s oil and b. - getting busted for a speeding penalty while trying to make a comeback. But several late cautions, pit strategy, and aggressive apron passes brought Busch to equal his best Cup finish since Sonoma last June (3rd). His pairing with the No. 78 Furniture Row team is a good one.
Wheel of Misfortune: Clint Bowyer – Had a strong car, came back from the same kind of damage in the same incident as Ku. Busch, was in the top 10 again, and blew a motor. He finished 35th.
Head-Scratcher Crown: Tony Stewart – He had every reason to be mad that Logano’s block caused his bad finish, but Stewart’s complex about blocking is perplexing. Logano wasn’t blocking him for 12th place – he was doing it for the win. And drivers all race long were using the apron to make passes. Stewart himself has blocked for wins and caused wrecks blocking (think Talladega fall 2012). He talks of Logano’s double standard, but he seems to have one of his own.
Ghost Driver: Martin Truex Jr. – Hung around the 12th position most of the race, after starting 7th. But the No. 56 lost the handle and fell out of the top 20 late in the race. He got up into the top 10, but got shuffled to 18th at the finish. Truex Jr. should have been a strong Toyota Sunday, but was a non-factor instead.
Georgia on My Mind: Unadilla’s David Ragan struggled all day, but gained spots when others had trouble. He took a wave-around to get a lap back during the race and ended up 24th.
Nationwide Wrap: Kyle Busch and Sam Hornish Jr. swapped the lead several times, but Busch was the class of the field and handed Joe Gibbs Racing its 9th-straight victory at Auto Club Speedway. This race was much less eventful than the Cup race. Hornish Jr. now has a 28-point lead over Regan Smith in the standings.
Next: NASCAR is off for Easter weekend next week. The Cup Series returns in two weeks at Martinsville Speedway with the Camping World Truck Series (off since Daytona). The Nationwide Series takes another week off and returns at Texas in three weeks.