FONTANA, Calif. – Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano raced side by side into the final lap, two bitter rivals unwilling to give even an inch – right up until they made contact with less than a mile to go.
The race ended with Hamlin in the hospital, Logano in a shoving match with Tony Stewart, and Kyle Busch celebrating a victory that seemed secondary to all the fury at Fontana.
Hamlin was airlifted away from the track Sunday after a collision with Logano on the penultimate turn sent him nearly head-on into the inside wall, putting a spectacular finish on the fifth race of the NASCAR season.
Logano managed to finish third despite wrecking into the outside wall after hitting Hamlin, who spun Logano last week at Bristol and sparked a bitter post-race confrontation that didnt cool off during the past week.
He probably shouldnt have done what he did last week, so thats what he gets, Logano said.
Yet Logano, 22, might have even bigger worries than his burgeoning feud with Hamlin, whose team expects him to be fine. Stewart got into a post-race shoving match with Logano, with the three-time champion threatening to whoop his (butt) after Logano aggressively blocked Stewart out of a late restart.
Its time he learns a lesson, Stewart said. Hes run his mouth long enough. Hes nothing but a little rich kid thats never had to work in his life, so hes going to learn what us working guys who had to work our way up (know about) how it works.
Almost forgotten in the post-race frenzy was Busch, who led 125 of 200 laps in his Toyota and earned his first victory of the season when he sped past Hamlin and Logano on the final turn. Dale Earnhardt Jr. also ceded the spotlight, even though NASCARs most popular driver moved into the Sprint Cup Series points lead with his second-place finish.
After a fairly entertaining race highlighted by Loganos aggressive move to block Stewart out of the final restart, the last lap developed into a spectacle pitting rivals already angry at each other about driving tactics.
Their final-lap theatrics on Fontanas wide two-mile track appeared to be motivated by fierce racing for a win, not revenge.
They were side-by-side heading into the final lap and largely stayed that way until Turn 3, where Logano began to work up the track. The cars made contact and eventually lost control, with Logano hitting the wall while Hamlin slid inside and made heavy contact with the wall.
Hamlin got himself out of the car, but then slumped to the ground beside it before an ambulance arrived. He was eventually airlifted out due to traffic around the track.
NASCAR didnt immediately have an update on his condition, although JGR President J.D. Gibbs thought Hamlin would be fine. Hamlins girlfriend, Jordan Fish, tweeted that Hamlin was alert n awake, main concern is his back.
Busch took advantage of his remarkable stroke of luck to pick up JGRs first victory at Fontana, the only track where the team had never won. Toyota also got its first Fontana win.
Kyle Buschs victory was his 25th in NASCAR, completing his ninth career weekend sweep after his Nationwide Series victory Saturday. He ended a 31-race Cup winless streak since last April at Richmond.
Oh, by the way, I won the race today, Busch said. That might be a story. Im sure its not, though.