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, Calif.
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 didn’t cool off during the past week.
“He probably shouldn’t have done what he did last week, so that’s what he gets,” Logano said.
Yet the 22-year-old Logano might have even bigger worries than his burgeoning feud with Hamlin, whose team expects him to be fine. Stewart got into a postrace shoving match with Logano, with the three-time champion threatening to “whoop his (butt)” after Logano aggressively blocked Stewart out of a late restart.
“It’s time he learns a lesson,” Stewart said. “He’s run his mouth long enough. … 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 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 NASCAR’s most popular driver moved into the Sprint Cup Series points lead with his second-place finish.
Even without Busch and Junior, NASCAR’s closest race to Hollywood had an abundance of drama.
“I’m tired of these guys doing that stuff, especially out of a kid that’s been griping about everybody else, and then he does that the next week,” Stewart said, referring to Logano’s complaints about other drivers’ similar moves. “He sent Denny to the hospital and screwed our day up. He’s talked the talk, but he hasn’t walked the walk yet.”
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.
They ended up racing together again in the opening laps at Fontana, with Logano practically grazing Hamlin’s bumper early on. Their final-lap theatrics on Fontana’s 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 didn’t immediately have an update on his condition, although JGR President J.D. Gibbs thought Hamlin would be fine.
James Hinchcliffe picked up his first career IndyCar Series victory in the season opener at St. Petersburg, Fla., where Andretti Autosport showed it’s picked up right where it left off after last year’s championship season.
Hinchcliffe passed Helio Castroneves on the final restart to take the lead and held on to win by 1.09 seconds over defending race winner Castroneves. He becomes the first Canadian to win since Paul Tracy’s 2007 victory at Cleveland in the CART Series.
Marco Andretti used a late push to finish third, a career-best finish for him on the downtown street course. He passed Simona de Silvestra with two laps to go to get the podium finish, and de Silvestro lost two more spots before the checkered flag.
Tony Kanaan was fourth and Scott Dixon fifth.
Three-time defending Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel held off Red Bull teammate Mark Webber in a scintillating battle to win Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang, Malaysia.
Vettel, who earlier in the race complained to the team about Webber’s slow pace, battled the Australian for much of the day, with the cars almost touching as the German grabbed the lead on the 46th lap for his 27th victory. The surprising run of Mercedes continued, with 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton coming in third ahead of teammate Nico Rosberg.