By David Morgan, Associate Editor
Racing at Auto Club Speedway has had its ups and downs over the years, but the annual trek to California in 2013 became one of the best races in the track’s history. Due to the worn out track surface, drivers were racing from the very bottom of the track all the way to the outside wall, creating three and four wide racing throughout the event, especially on restarts.
All just an appetizer for the main event at the end of the race.
With the race winding down, Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano, who had gotten into a scuffle the week before in Bristol, found themselves at the front of the field and it looked as if the two drivers were going to have a duel for the ages all the way down to the finish.
The two drivers came through Turn 4 on the final lap and Logano washed up the track a bit, making contact with the left rear quarter panel of Hamlin’s No. 11 machine, sending it spinning down towards the inside retaining wall just before the start of pit road.
Hamlin’s Toyota made a tremendously hard impact with the wall, which was not protected by a SAFER barrier at the time, and absolutely destroyed the front end of the car. The impact left Hamlin with a severe back injury that would leave him sidelined for several races and effectively ended any hope that he had of competing for the championship.
As Hamlin and Logano tangled off of Turn 4, Kyle Busch, who was lurking behind them on that final lap, took advantage and skated by on the outside to take the win and complete the weekend sweep.
“Well, those guys went to racing each other really hard, which is what this sport is all about and what’s great about NASCAR,” said Busch. “But unfortunately it got a little dirty there at the end, and it was just running — those guys were running each other really, really hard, especially down the straightaways, just side drafting one another and slowing each other down.
“That was the easiest time for me to gain time, just being able for me to run my own race right there and to run around the top. I finally got my momentum going and got a little bit of the tight that was in the car out of it, and we ran those guys down, and then was able to pass them there in 3 and 4 before the big wreck ensued.”
Busch was followed to the line by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who had done some impressive driving of his own, moving up from mid-pack on the restart to finish second in the last 10 lap run.
The incident with Hamlin wasn’t the only issue that Logano had on the day. On the final restart, Logano moved down to block Tony Stewart, who was coming with a head of steam and trying to make a move towards the front. Logano was able to stay out in front of Stewart, but the block that Logano made angered Stewart to no end.
After the race, Stewart went to confront Logano and the two drivers as well as the crews got into a shoving match, with Logano even throwing at water bottle at Stewart reminiscent of Rusty Wallace and Dale Earnhardt at Bristol in 1995.
Eventually the scuffle was broken up, but Stewart was still angry, unleashing a tirade when asked about the incident after the race.
“What the hell do you think I was mad about? Dumb little son-of-a-[expletive] runs us clear down to the infield. He wants to [expletive] about everybody else and he’s the one who drives like a little [expletive]. I’m going to bust his ass!”
Earlier this year, Stewart joined the Dale Jr. Download podcast and provided a little more insight on the scuffle between him and Logano and how it all transpired.
“I was so mad at Joey,” Stewart said. “Joey had a real big habit at that time of just absolutely running you all over the race track. He literally ran me down to the grass where nobody had been all day. We would all go down to the apron at the start-finish line at Fontana, but this was clear by the end of pit road and I picked up so much stuff (on my tires).
“We were like, I don’t know, fifth and seventh or seventh and ninth on the restart and I finished 24th. I lost so much time in that first lap trying to get the tires cleaned back off to go. I was so mad.”
Stewart added more to the story, noting that his anger at Logano equaled the anger he had at one of the crewmen from Stewart-Haas Racing that intervened in the tussle.
“I was madder at my own crew guys that were from Danica’s team or Ryan’s team. I had Joey hemmed up and I knew where my guys were, so I was like ‘I’m way far away they can’t get to me.’ I didn’t even think about my other teams and one of them was about three spots away from where I had Joey hemmed up.
“I was like ‘I’ve got his ass now. I’m going to dot his eye, cross his T, we’ve got this,’ and about that time the big fuel guy grabs me by the collar and pulls me back like I’m a rag doll.”