Medical crews take Denny Hamlin to the hospital following his last-lap crash in Sunday's California 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Winner! Kyle Busch, who Sunday survived the best, wildest and most frightening finish at California's Auto Club Speedway since it opened in 1997.
But Denny Hamlin was taken to a Ontario hospital after a savage nose-first crash into an unprotected concrete wall during a fender-banging battle for the lead with Joey Logano on the last lap of the California 400.
And Logano, who finished last week's Bristol 500 with a run-in with Hamlin, found himself in yet another post-race brouhaha, this time with an angry Tony Stewart, with punches thrown on pit road.
Busch was the day's big lap leader, dominating most of the three-hour race. But Logano was the man on the inside of the front row for the final restart, with less than 50 miles to go in the 400-miler at the two-mile track just east of Los Angeles.
Stewart, just behind Logano for that restart, dived to the apron into the first turn in a bid for the lead. But Logano blocked him, and then chopped him off.
Stewart saved his anger for the post-race pit road run-in.
Logano held the lead down the stretch, when Busch faded a bit. But Hamlin, who had put Logano in the wall at Bristol seven days earlier in a battle for the lead, was right on Logano's tail.
Hamlin made a bid to the outside of Logano in the final miles, and the two bounced off each other several times. The climax came on the last lap, when the two again hit hard, Logano heading into the outside wall, while Hamlin headed into the inside wall.
Hamlin managed to climb from his car but immediately lay down on the track, in pain. He was taken first to the infield care center, then transported to a local hospital.
Meanwhile out on pit road, Stewart got out of his car and charged toward Logano. The two threw punches but it was unclear if any landed before the crews broke up the encounter.
Logano tried to downplay the entire situation.
But Stewart ripped into Logano verbally, calling him a "rich kid who never had to work a day in his life." And Stewart said he intended to teach Logano a lesson.
That would seem a perfect lead-in to the NASCAR tour's next stop, at Martinsville, Va., April 7th.
Kyle Busch, in victory (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Stewart was hot afterwards, and didn't mince words.
"Joey spun the tires on the restart," Stewart said. "Everybody had trouble with that; but it's not my fault he spun the tires.
"For a guy that has been complaining about how everybody else is driving here, and then to do that, it's a double standard.
"He makes the decision to run us down there (toward the infield)... and when you run a driver down there, then you take responsibility for what happens after that.
"He is a tough guy on pit road as soon as one of his crew guys gets in the middle of it. Until then he's a scared little kid. Then he wants to sit there and throw a water bottle at me.
"He is going to learn a lesson.
"He can run his mouth on Twitter all he wants tonight. I've got plenty of people that are going to watch for that.
"It's time he learns a lesson. He's run his mouth long enough.
"He has this double standard... and he's nothing but a little rich kid that has never had to work in his life. He's going to learn from us working guys that had to work our way up how it works."
However Logano's block on Stewart was almost exactly the same move Stewart himself pulled on Michael Waltrip last year at Talladega, triggering that huge last lap crash.
Still Stewart was on a rant: "It's no excuse for Joey to do what he did.
"I'm just tired of watching these kids whine... and then they sit there and act tough when their crew guys get in the middle of it.
"If NASCAR wants us to let the 'guys have at it,' it shouldn't be any different than hockey -- Let the guys have at it, and when one guy goes to the ground, then it's over."
Logano at Bristol had vowed to take his measure of Hamlin, for their run-in.
This time it was Stewart vowing to take his measure of Logano: "If he ever turns down across in front of me again, I don't care what lap it is, he won't make it through the other end of it.
"If I didn't hit the (engine limiting) chip, he wouldn't have made it through turn one to begin with.
"I'm tired of these guys doing that stuff... especially out of a kid that's been griping about everybody else.
"I mean he's sent Denny to the hospital and screwed our day up.
"He's talked the talk, but he hasn't walked the walk yet. He's always got his crew guys walking the walk for him."
And Stewart said he wasn't answering the phone if Logano were to call: "Hell no.
"If he wants to talk about it, we'll talk about it....(but) after he threw the water bottle at me like a little girl, we'll go at it now."
Tony Stewart makes things tense on California Speedway's pit road (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Logano had his own version:
What happened, with Stewart and with Hamlin?
"Racing for the lead....going for the win....that is what you've got to do.
"Tony was just upset about a restart -- that I was racing him really hard on the bottom, trying to make sure I protected my spot.
"I had to throw the block. That was a race for the lead.
"I'll talk to him, and we'll see what happens. I think he finished decent. We'll just talk about it some more.
"What I was doing actually was racing Kyle on the restart, and he was spinning his tires. The rule is you can't beat him to the start-finish line, so I am pedaling it, which gave Tony the run to go under me. 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.
"Then I had to do what I had to do to get to the front and try to win the race."
The hard racing with Hamlin? Logano wasn't apologetic: "He probably shouldn't have done what he did last week... so that's what he gets.
Great Sunday afternoon in Southern California...and great finish at California Speedway (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)