FONTANA, Calif. – Denny Hamlin was airlifted to a hospital Sunday after colliding with Joey Logano on the last lap while NASCAR’s newest rivals raced for the win in a thrilling finish at Fontana.
And Logano has even bigger worries than his burgeoning feud with Hamlin, whose team expects him to be fine: Three-time champion Tony Stewart got into a post-race shoving match with Logano, threatening to “whoop his (butt)” after the 22-year-old Logano aggressively blocked Stewart out of a late restart.
“It’s time he learns a lesson,” Stewart said. “He’s nothing but a little rich kid that’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 (know about) how it works.”
Almost forgotten in all that Fontana drama was Kyle Busch, who earned his first victory of the season when he sped past Hamlin and Logano on the final turn.
But the final lap was a spectacle pitting Hamlin against Logano, their cars side by side in their first race since the drivers confronted each other last week at Bristol in another argument about driving tactics.
Logano eventually hit the outside wall at Fontana and managed to finish third, while Hamlin never made it to the line after hitting the inside wall with force. He received attention in an ambulance and was airlifted out due to traffic around the track.
Stewart, the defending Fontana champion, ran over to Logano’s car and confronted him after the race, shoving the younger driver – who then threw a water bottle at Stewart, the veteran said – before teammates pulled them apart.
Stewart, who finished 22nd, was replaced by Logano at Joe Gibbs Racing when Stewart left to drive for his own team starting in 2009.
“What the hell do you think I was mad about?” Stewart asked.
Busch led the most laps in his Toyota and took advantage of his remarkable stroke of luck to pick up JGR’s first victory at Fontana, the only track where the team had never won. Toyota also got its first Fontana win.
“They forgot about me. I knew they were going to,” Busch said. “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 him.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished second and took over the lead in the points standings despite falling from third to 22nd late in the race with a dismal pit stop.
Carl Edwards came in fourth, with Kurt Busch fifth. Defending series champion Brad Keselowski finished 23rd, missing the top five for the first time all season.
Kyle Busch’s 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.
But all eyes were on Hamlin and Logano, who got into it last week at Bristol: Hamlin spun Logano on that tight Tennessee bullring while Logano was racing Jeff Gordon for the late lead. Hamlin claimed Logano had cut him off three times earlier in the race, but Logano ran over to Hamlin’s car afterward and leaned in his window for an angry exchange before the teams pulled them apart.
Their final-lap theatrics at Fontana mostly appeared to be motivated by fierce racing for a win in a back-and-forth race on a wide two-mile track. Hamlin’s crash was more dramatic than Logano’s contact with the wall, with Hamlin’s car going head-on into the inside wall.
“He probably shouldn’t have done what he did last week, so that’s what he gets,” Logano said. “We were super fast, led a lot of laps. Nothing to hang our head down about, that’s for sure.”
Hamlin got himself out of the car, but then slumped to the ground beside it before medical help arrived. NASCAR didn’t immediately have an update on his condition, although JGR President J.D. Gibbs thought Hamlin would be fine.
Logano then got into a shoving match with Stewart, who also had a late lead. Logano went extremely low to block Stewart out of a late restart. Stewart was furious, responding to interview questions with a long series of expletives.
Hamlin and Logano were near each other from the opening laps, with Logano practically grazing Hamlin’s bumper early on. On Friday, Hamlin said he hoped the beef with Logano was finished, but Logano said he hadn’t received any apology and wasn’t feeling particularly forgiving.
Hamlin and Logano ended up together in the final laps after Logano prevented Stewart from getting back in the hunt.
“I had to throw the block there,” Logano said. “That was a race for the lead. I felt if the 14 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.”
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.