Coming into Sunday’s Auto Club 400, Joe Gibbs Racing had never won a Sprint Cup Series race at the fast two mile Auto Club Speedway in the 24 NSCS races at the track. After 400 miles, it looked like either Joey Logano for Penske Racing or Denny Hamlin for Joe Gibbs Racing would be going to Victory Lane. However, Logano and Hamlin collided in Turn 4. Logano went hard into the outside wall, while Hamlin spun and hit the unprotected concrete inside wall. Kyle Busch was able to slip by while the duo were pre-occupied with themselves to give JGR its first Cup Series win at the track. The victory gives JGR at least one win on every active track in the series.
Following the race, Busch was very happy with his victory and weekend sweep.
“Man, feels so good to finally win with our Interstate Batteries Camry,” Kyle Busch said after the race. “We weren’t going to win if it wasn’t for [Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano] battling. If they would have been single-file and just racing, it would have went down in order. I can’t say enough about all of Joe Gibbs Racing. I drove my butt off right there at the end.”
Busch, who rolled off in fourth position, led a race high 125 laps for his first cup series win since Richmond in April 2012. It is his 25th career victory in the Sprint Cup Series.
After getting out of the car on his own, Hamlin would go to the ground. According to a statement from Joe Gibbs Racing, Hamlin complained of lower back pain while in the Infield Care Center. Hamlin was then airlifted to a local hospital for additional care, where he spent Sunday night under observation. NASCAR stated that the airlift was mainly due to the high amount of traffic on the roads after the race.
Matt Kenseth flexed some early muscle as he would take the lead on the initial start from of the race and lead for the first nine laps before Busch made his move and went to the front of the pack on lap 10.
David Stremme would bring out the race’s first caution on lap 29 after cutting a left rear tire and spinning off of Turn 2. Joey Logano would prove to be a major factor all day long as on lap 44 shortly after the second caution of the race, he would pass Kyle Busch for the lead off of Turn 2. Logano would lead 41 laps on the day and score his first top 5 finish of the season finishing third.
Matt Kenseth would continue to prove his move to JGR is paying immediate dividends by bringing home his Dollar General Camry in 7th position. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. would continue his strong early season run by finishing second and taking over the Sprint Cup Series points lead after recovering from a disastrous pit stop late in the race. Sunday would mark Dale Jr.‘s fourth top-5 in the first five races. Jimmie Johnson, who struggled over much of the race’s 400 mile distance, found himself bringing home a 12th-place finish after spending almost the entire race outside the top-20.
Brad Keselowski had his first stumble of 2013 on Sunday. Starting in the rear of the field after an engine change on Friday, Keselowski drove his Miller Lite Ford into the top-20 by lap 15 and would be in the top-10 much of the day until a round of late pit stops and an ill handling Ford would relegate him a 23rd-place finish. Clint Bowyer would also experience fate late in the race with 15 laps to go when the motor in his 5-Hour Energy Camry would expire ending what was looking to be a promising afternoon with a 35th-place finish.
The feel good story of 2013 continues to be Kurt Busch and Furniture Row Racing. Busch would capitalize on a strong top-10 qualifying effort by recording his second top-5 in a row. Kurt leaves Fontana 12th in points, 60 points back of Earnhardt Jr.
Greg Biffle finished in sixth after starting from the rear of the field due to an engine change. Matt Kenseth was seventh, followed by Paul Menard in eighth. Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-10.
After the race is when the real fireworks started as Tony Stewart confronted Joey Logano concerning the final restart. Stewart managed to get a swing on Logano before being separated by crew members on several teams. An obviously upset Stewart said after the race “What the hell do you think I was mad about.” Stewart would finish 22nd on the afternoon. NASCAR has said they will review the actions of both Stewart and Logano after Sunday’s race.
The Sprint Cup Series has the Easter weekend off before heading to the smallest track on the circuit in two weeks at Martinsville.