DALE JR. GRABS CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD
Denny Hamlin was hospitalized following a hard crash on the final lap at Auto Club Speedway. Hamlin was put on a stretcher immediately following the wreck, which occurred as Hamlin and Joey Logano raced for the win going into the final turn. The accident was the second in two weeks between the former Joe Gibbs Racing teammates (photo courtesy: Jeff Gross, GETTY IMAGES SPORT)
Behind the wheel of his No. 88 National Guard car, Dale Earnhardt Jr. avoided a late-race accident between the leaders to collect a second-place finish at Auto Club Speedway in Race 5 of the 36-race 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 15-17).
NASCAR’s most popular driver, Earnhardt, Jr., is off to a fast start as the schedule swings into full gear. The team has already collected five top-10 finishes in the first five races; the only team to accomplish that feat this year. Earnhardt, Jr. also is now the series point leader with a 12-point advantage over reigning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski.
“We got… We were pretty good at closing races, something I never really was good at for years, and now we're doing it as good as anybody,” said Earnhardt. “Just real happy with how things are going for our team.”
In an afternoon filled with breath-taking action and heart-stopping drama on the final lap, Kyle Busch recorded his ninth career weekend sweep of the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races and snapped a 31-race Sprint Cup Series winless streak by taking the checkered flag.
A day after winning his 54th NASCAR Nationwide Series race, Busch led most of Sunday’s race -- 125 of the 200 laps – but regained the lead on the final lap after Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin took each other out to secure his 25th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory to give Joe Gibbs Racing its first win in 11 races at Auto Club Speedway. Homestead-Miami Speedway will host the Ford EcoBoost 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship Nov. 16.
“What a great day. It’s great to sweep the weekend,” said Busch, who is tied with Matt Kenseth, Jim Paschal and Joe Weatherly for 24th in all-time Sprint Cup victories. “To finally win it, it’s been a couple years in the making. Finally we get a win for Joe. Joe, this one is for you. I drove my butt off for you.”
For the second consecutive week, tempers flared after the checkered flag. The race at Auto Club Speedway reached its thrilling climax as Logano and pole-sitter Hamlin went fender-to-fender for the lead over the last few laps. The drivers’ bad blood toward each other that escalated last week’s race at Bristol underscored the racing drama between the two.
Side-by-side coming out of Turn 3 and jockeying for the lead, the two tapped each other enough on the last lap to send Logano into the outside wall and Hamlin skidding into a head-on collision with the inside wall. It enabled Busch to emerge as the leader and hold on for the checkered flag.
“I didn’t think that was going to happen,” Busch said. “I don’t know what their issue is or what their problem is. They were messing with each other so much, I was able to inch up and get closer. When they went to the bottom side, I said I could get through this. They crashed each other out going for the win. Fortunately, I was in the right spot. I drove around the outside of them as they were crashing. (I was thinking) ‘You ain’t gonna win, and you ain’t gonna win.’ I hope Denny’s gonna be alright.”
Meanwhile, Hamlin was alert as he was helped out of his car, loaded into an ambulance and airlifted to a local hospital, due to outgoing traffic from Auto Club Speedway, for precautionary reasons and further evaluation.
Then, immediately after the chaotic final lap, Tony Stewart and Logano, who placed third, were seen in an immediate post-race altercation on pit road, with each driver being separated by their pit crews.
Coming out of the final restart on Lap 190, Logano, who led for 41 laps of the race, blocked a hard-charging Stewart in order to protect his line, and then tried to overtake Busch on the inside. He did temporarily until Busch grabbed it back seconds later.
“Just racing hard, trying to win the race,” said Logano of his cutting off of Stewart. “I wanted to block that because I knew if he put me three-wide, that would be the end of my race and I wouldn’t win. I was smart enough to realize that. I understand that he’s frustrated and he’s angry and I’ll talk to him about that. I had to do what I had to do.”
Replied Stewart, who finished 22nd: “Joey spun the tires on the restart. For a guy who’s been complaining about how everyone else is driving here, and for him to do that, it’s a double standard. He sent Denny to the hospital and screwed our day up. And then he threw a water bottle at me. After he threw the water bottle at me like a little girl, I have nothing to say to him right now. It’s time he learned a lesson.”
Next up for the Sprint Cup drivers is Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, April 7 (1 p.m. ET, FOX, MRN Radio)—Race 6 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 15-17). The Top 12 drivers in points after Race 26 qualify to contend for the 2013 Sprint Cup Championship. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17.
Tickets for NASCAR’s series-crowning Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 15-17 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—go on sale to the general public on May 1. Renew your championship tickets today! Be a part of the most exciting race weekend in America November 15-17. Save as much as $40 per ticket and keep the same seat as last year. Be first in line to upgrade, exchange, or add seats before the general public.
NASCAR Ford Championship Weekend Renewal Deadline: March 29, 2013
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