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March 24, 2013

Busch avoids Hamlin-Logano wreck in Fontana finish

FONTANA, Calif. — Kyle Busch earned his first victory of the season at Fontana on Sunday after rivals Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano wrecked on the final lap in a thrilling NASCAR finish.

Hamlin and Logano made contact while they raced side-by-side in the final lap of their first race since the drivers confronted each other last week at Bristol. Logano hit the outside wall and Hamlin hit the inside wall, with Hamlin getting attention in an ambulance and eventually getting aiflifted to a hospital due to traffic around the track.

Defending Fontana champion Tony Stewart then confronted Logano after the race and shoved the younger driver before teammates pulled them apart. Logano blocked Stewart out of a late restart, infuriating the veteran three-time Sprint Cup series champion, who finished 22nd.

Busch led the most laps in his Toyota and took advantage of his remarkable stroke of luck to pick up Joe Gibbs Racing’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 them.”

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. Kurt Busch came in third, with Carl Edwards fourth and Greg Biffle fifth in front of Logano. 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.

Last week at Bristol, Hamlin spun Logano 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 was hopeful Hamlin was 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.

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