Kyle Busch snapped a 31-race winless streak and Dale Earnhardt Jr. is perched atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, but all the talk following Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway involved Joey Logano, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and the Gen-6 car.
Busch can thank the ongoing and escalating feud between Logano and Hamlin that assisted him in ending the drought at the Fontana, Calif., speedway. Just past the finish line on Lap 199 of 200, Hamlin moved to the outside of Logano and the drivers banged repeatedly until the contact sent Hamlin spinning into an inside wall and Logano into an outside one. Busch managed to maneuver his way around both cars for the win. Earnhardt Jr. finished second to take the series points lead by 12 over defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski.
"They forgot about me. I knew they would," Busch said. "I was hoping I could get by them before they wrecked. When they ran through three and four, I thought, 'This is golden ... I can make this happen.' I put my foot to it and drove by them before they started crashing. We weren't going to win it if it hadn't been for their battle there."
The wild finish led to the NASCAR soap opera flourishing leading into an off week with Martinsville on the horizon (April 7) and then the NRA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday, April 13.
Here are the storylines to watch:
- Logano vs. Hamlin. This feud of former Joe Gibbs teammates started at Bristol the week prior. Hamlin, who took offense to some questionable moves in front of him by Logano, made contact with Logano while he was in contention for the lead during the Bristol race and spun him out. Logano ran over to Hamlin’s car after the race, leaned into the window for a few words and that sparked a brief confrontation between the teams. That led to a war of words on Twitter that made it clear this beef was far from over. The two battled for the win at Fontana and many held their breath knowing that it was probably going to be wreckers or checkers. It was wreckers for both as Logano slid up into Hamlin and took both of them out, providing Busch with the gift win. Logano finished third while Hamlin fell to 25th and the hard crash sent him to the hospital, where he sustained a compression fracture in his lower back. He spent the night in a local hospital and was released Monday. He will be further evaluated when in returns home to North Carolina to determine if he will be ready to race following the off week. Given the injury, will it temporarily end this feud or further escalate it with payback in the near future? Only time will tell.
- Logano vs. Stewart. As if Logano doesn’t have his hands full with Hamlin, he now has to keep an eye in his rear-view mirror for Stewart. The three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion was miffed at the two blocks Logano put on him during the final restart with 11 laps remaining. Stewart lost all his momentum on the run down low and wound up falling to 22nd. "I had to throw the block there," Logano said. "That was a race for the lead. I felt if the 14 (Stewart) got underneath me, that was going to be the end of my opportunity to win the race, so I was just trying to protect the spot I had. I was actually pedaling, because I couldn't keep the 18 (race leader Kyle Busch) aligned (in front of Logano's No. 22 Ford, as the rules require on a restart). … I'll talk to him and we'll see what happens." Following a brief, profanity-laced tirade about Logano (Good luck with the talk, Joey) with FOX pit reporter Steve Byrnes, Stewart was still hot in his post-race interview with reporters in the garage. "He's going to learn a lesson," Stewart said. "He's run his mouth long enough… He's nothing but a little rich kid who's never had to work in his life, so he's going to learn what us working guys who had to work our way up… how it works.
“He has the choice to do that. He's in control of his car. But if he ever turns down across in front of me again -- I don't care what lap it is -- he won't make it through the other end of it… I'm tired of these guys doing that stuff, especially out of a kid that's been griping about everybody else -- and then he does that the next week… send Denny to the hospital and screw our day up. He's talked the talk, but he hasn't walked the walk yet. He's always got his crew guys walking the walk for him." This one just seems to be heating up and could get hotter in the next few weeks.
- Performance of the Gen-6 car: Many already have hailed this as the best NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway since it first hosted one in 1997. The finish was climatic, but there was much, much more to this race. Officially, there were 17 lead changes among eight drivers, but more importantly the drivers had the ability to overpass at will, work their cars in multiple grooves around the track and put on an entertaining side-by-side show throughout the field all day long. The Gen-6 car has now performed on five distinct tracks in the first five weeks and continues to receive very positive reviews.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will take the weekend off for Easter and then return April 7 at Martinsville, where bumping is plentiful and tempers are known to flare on the .526-mile, paper clip-shaped oval. Stay tuned.