July 28, 2014

Below the Yellow Line: Auto Club Recaps

This weekend’s races in Fontana, California were arguably some of the most exciting and drama filled races that we’ve seen so far this season. Here are the recaps from Auto Club Speedway:

NASCAR Nationwide Series: Royal Purple 300

The weekend kicked off with the Nationwide Series race on Saturday. Kyle Busch took the pole followed by his two Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Elliott Sadler and Brian Vickers. Joe Gibbs Racing has dominated at Auto Club in the Nationwide Series so these three drivers were the clear favorites to take the win on Saturday. The racing was very competitive with drivers going 4 and sometimes 5 wide on ensuing restarts. The three JGR drivers remained out front for a large majority of the race until Brian Vickers blew an engine, sending him to the garage and ending his day.

As the race started closing in on the end, two cars clearly stood out as the favorites: #54 Kyle Busch and #12 Sam Hornish. Just a few weeks ago, Sam and Kyle went at it for the win at Las Vegas with Hornish coming out victorious. They raced each other hard but it was a different story than Vegas with Kyle Busch taking the checkers securing his 3rd Nationwide Series win of the season and extending Joe Gibbs Racing’s winning streak at Auto Club. Sam Hornish Jr. remains the points leader. The Nationwide Series will be off for the next two weekends until Texas.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Auto Club 400

Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin wreck on the final lap at Auto Club Speedway (espn.com)

Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin wreck on the final lap at Auto Club Speedway (espn.com)

The Sprint Cup Series race from Auto Club Speedway was the most drama filled race so far this season. Many questions loomed as we headed into this race: Will Joey Logano payback Denny Hamlin from their incident in Bristol? & will Joe Gibbs Racing finally win a Sprint Cup race at the track?

All these questions would be answered. Denny Hamlin won the pole for the race. Two drivers #16 Greg Biffle and #2 Brad Keselowski had to go to the rear of the field due to engine changes. Joe Gibbs Racing showed their strength again with Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, and Matt Kenseth all running up inside the top 5 for a lot of the race.

One driver was looking to spoil that, former Joe Gibbs Racing driver and current driver of the #22 for Penske Racing, Joey Logano. Him and Hamlin had had a run in the week before at Bristol when Hamlin nudged Joey into the wall, ruining a good run for him. Joey then confronted Denny after Bristol and said, “I’m coming for you.” Everybody anticipated what it would be like when these two got to racing eachother. They raced eachother clean for a majority of the day until the closing laps.

A late race restart ensued when #15 Clint Bowyer blew an engine bringing out a caution. Kyle Busch was the current leader followed by Joey Logano in 2nd, Tony Stewart in 3rd, Kurt Busch in 4th, and Denny Hamlin in 5th. When the green flag waved, Stewart shot to the bottom to try to get around Logano. Logano then drove down to the apron to block Tony causing Tony to lose momentum and drop way back in the field.

A three wide battle for the lead came about with Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano. Logano nudged his rival Hamlin a little, getting him lose, and took the first spot with only a handful of laps to go. Denny wasn’t going to let his rival win that easy. He stormed back up towards Logano and were side by side as the white flag flew.

One lap would settle this rivalry once and for all, or would it? As the two battled into the final turn, Hamlin had the edge on the high side. Logano wasn’t going to let Denny win. He moved up into Hamlin, pushing him all the way up towards the wall. This caused both Hamlin and Logano to wreck. Kyle Busch avoided the two wrecking to get around them and take the win, securing Joe Gibbs Racing first ever Sprint Cup Series win at the track and Kyle sweeping both races that weekend.

Meanwhile, while the celebration for Kyle was going on, Denny Hamlin had to get attended to by medical workers after his head on crash with the wall. He was loaded up on a stretcher and sent to a local hospital for further evaluation. On pit road, an angry Tony Stewart went over to Logano throwing punches and yelling about the blocking incident between the two.

Tony then went on to give an interview cussing out Logano and saying that he needs to learn respect and get taught a lesson. Hamlin was released from the hospital yesterday evening after discovering he has a fractured back. Hamlin could possibly miss anywhere from 2-4 months of racing.

Opinion:

The races at Auto Club generally aren’t very exciting but this race was a huge exception. It was very exciting to watch although you never want to see a driver injured like Hamlin was. I hope he has a speedy recovery and is able to get back racing as soon as possible. As far as the Tony Stewart/Joey Logano rivalry goes, I am 100% in agreement with Tony Stewart.

I don’t think Logano raced with respect during this race and I find it absolutely ridiculous that Joey hasn’t even contacted Denny apologizing or making sure he is okay. I personally hope Stewart brings some payback to Logano in two weeks at Martinsville.

There are many questions still to be answered but it will be interesting to see how it all plays out. All series are off this weekend so there will be no previews or recaps for this weekend.

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