Winners and Losers from NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at California
Well, damn, that was fun, huh?
With apologies to Denny Hamlin and his fans—we wish Hamlin the best after a punishing head-on impact with the inside wall after a last-lap accident—Sunday's Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway may have been the greatest Sprint Cup race ever to be held at the track.
While Hamlin and Joey Logano battled for the victory and eventually took one another out, Kyle Busch coasted by on the outside to steal the victory for Joe Gibbs Racing, which had previously never won at the track. The win put Busch sixth in series points—a full recovery from his 33rd place rank three weeks ago at Phoenix.
So who else came out on top, and who had a day to forget in California?
Winner: Kyle Busch
"They forgot me, I knew they were gonna," Busch beamed to Fox's Matt Yocum in Victory Lane after watching Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin wreck one another while racing for the win.
Busch led a race-high 125 of 200 laps in his completion of the weekend sweep after winning the Nationwide race on Saturday. It was the first time that he had won a race when leading the most laps since Kentucky in 2011 after previously failing to do so in his last nine opportunities.
Loser: Joey Logano
Joey Logano's driving of late is beginning to evoke memories of "Swervin" Ernie Irvan, whose aggression in the early 1990s caused multiple accidents that ended with drivers in the hospital. A desperate blocking attempt in the final corner did just that to Denny Hamlin, removing both drivers from victory contention and sending Logano's biggest rival head-on into the inside wall.
Logano didn't do himself any favors by blocking Tony Stewart on the last restart either—a move that led to a fight between the two on pit road after the race. And telling Fox's Steve Byrnes that "after last week, that's what (Hamlin) gets" was probably ill-advised, whether he knew Hamlin was being loaded into an ambulance or not.
Winner: Kurt Busch
For the second week in a row, Kurt Busch gave Furniture Row Racing something to write home about with his result. Despite a mid-race pit road speeding penalty, Busch rebounded to finish fifth—a great way to back up last week's fourth place run at Bristol.
After ranking 29th in points just two weeks ago, he's now solidly in the top 15, leapfrogging such drivers as Kevin Harvick (15th), Jeff Gordon (18th) and the struggling Tony Stewart (22nd).
Loser: Denny Hamlin
We still don't know too much about the extent of Hamlin's injuries, but we saw him climb from the No. 11 car and collapse after a massive head-on impact with a piece of the inside wall not protected by a SAFER barrier.
The impact ruined what had been a good race for Hamlin, who won the pole and challenged for the victory despite only leading three laps all day.
Winner: Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt Jr. is leading the points again after scoring a quiet second-place finish on Sunday. He's the only driver in the series with top 10s in every race so far, posting an average finish of 4.4, despite an average starting spot of 19.8.
That's a great way to start a season off on the right foot.
Loser: Brad Keselowski
Despite qualifying third, Brad Keselowski had to start from the back of the field after an engine change between practice and qualifying. He made his way back up through the field but plummeted from 11th to 23rd after suffering an overheating problem in the closing laps of the race.
Not only did he lose the points lead by 12 to Dale Earnhardt Jr., he also saw a 16-race top-15 streak come to an end.
Winner: Roush Fenway Racing
After Jack Roush proclaimed that he felt Ford's engine woes from early practices were minor, his top two drivers went out and backed him up this weekend. Carl Edwards finished fourth, his best result since winning at Phoenix, while Greg Biffle rebounded from his pre-qualifying engine change to finish a strong sixth. Both drivers now sit in the top five in Sprint Cup standings.
Loser: Clint Bowyer
Last week, Clint Bowyer scored his best finish of the season so far with a fifth-place run at Bristol. This week, he scored his worst finish, placing 35th after a late-race engine failure and resulting spin ended what had already been a long day after scrubbing the wall early.
He fell from fourth in points to 13th—the worst position he's held all season.
Winner: Everyone Watching
No matter what kind of racing you enjoy, there was something for everyone in Sunday's free-for-all.
Fans of wild racing saw some intense movement on the track that nearly culminated in more than one accident. Those who enjoy intelligent racing were vindicated when a patient Kyle Busch breezed by as Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano wrecked.
But best of all, fans who love it when drivers speak out have Tony Stewart to thank for lines like "dumb little **** drives us clear down into the infield" and "I'm gonna bust his ass" about Logano.
Loser: Marcos Ambrose
Of all of the bad days that drivers had in California, Marcos Ambrose might have had the worst one of all. Things just never got off the ground for the Australian, who suffered two flat tires and eventually finished 18 laps down in 36th.
With an average finish of 28.8, Fontana is now Ambrose's second-worst track on the Sprint Cup schedule, as he has yet to finish a single race there on the lead lap.
For more from Christopher Leone, follow @christopherlion on Twitter.