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Sprint Cup Recap — Auto Club 400

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Kyle Busch led the most laps & won the Auto Club 400 Sunday in California.

If that seems pretty cut & dry, trust me, it wasn’t.  In fact, on the last lap, in the last turn, Kyle Busch was running 3rd.

It was the now-fueding, former Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin & Joey Logano who were out front during the last few laps, allowing their rivalry to take center stage.  The #22 & #11 swapped paint during a furious battle for the lead, and neither blinked as they headed into the last corner.

Hamlin went low, and Logano went lower.  The #22 car eventually slid up the track and hit the #11, and as the cars bounced off each other, Logano hit the outside wall and Hamlin was sent sliding head on into the inside wall.

Busch took the high line, and as Logano and Hamlin were busy wrecking, Kyle cruised to the finish line for his first win of the year.

“They forgot about me,” Busch said.  “I knew they were going to.  We had a good run on the top side, and they were messing with each other so bad that they took each other down.  I was just hoping I could get by before they took me with them.”

So, Kyle Busch wins.  But, who cares about that?

Hamlin collapsed after climbing out of his damaged Toyota, and was airlifted to the hospital.  Although we don’t have a status update on Hamlin at the time of this writing, JGR President J.D. Gibbs was hopeful that Hamlin was fine.

I say that because no matter how the hospital visit turns out for Hamlin, whether he’s injured or not, this rivalry just got sent into overdrive.  NASCAR has taken the, “boys have at it,” philosophy over the last few seasons, but I don’t think they’re going to allow drivers to be injured without stepping in.

Here’s what we learned Sunday in Fontana:

1. Tony Stewart doesn’t like Logano either.  “Dumb little son-of-a-b**** runs us clear down to the infield.  He wants to b**** about everybody else and he’s the one who drives like a little b****.  I’m going to bust his ass.”  Those are Tony Stewart’s words, not mine.  He was upset with Joey after the #22 blocked the #14 on a late restart.  He charged towards Logano on pit road after the race, and even got a shove or two in before both crews separated the drivers.  I didn’t think there was that much to fight about, but even if Hamlin can’t race in Martinsville, Logano will have another driver to watch out for.

2. Dale Jr. is Mr. Consistency.  Since when did Dale Earnhardt Jr. turn into Terry Labonte?  No wins yet, but he always seems to be around at the end of races.  The #88 has very quietly finished in the top ten every race this season, with three top fives.  After Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway, he’s the points leader.

3. Kurt Busch can drive.  It’s a pretty perfect position for Kurt Busch to be in.  Driving for a smaller team like Furniture Row, he’s not in the spotlight much.  Also, when the team does well, he gets all the credit, and when they stink, he can just blame it on bad equipment.  If he keeps finishing in the top five though, they won’t be out of the spotlight for long.  It’s March, right?  Well, I think Kurt Busch and the #78 car might just be a Cinderella team this year.

Tommy Joe Martins is a former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver & a weekly racer at the historic Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway.  A graduate of the University of Mississippi, he’s been a sports columnist for The Daily Mississippian, a radio host & a life-long NASCAR fan.

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