FONTANA, Calif. — Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano raced side by side into the final lap, two bitter rivals unwilling to give even an inch — right up until they made contact with less than a mile to go.
The race ended with Hamlin in the hospital, Logano in a shoving match with Tony Stewart, and Kyle Busch celebrating a victory that seemed secondary to all the fury at Fontana.
Hamlin was airlifted away from the track Sunday after a collision with Logano on the penultimate turn sent him nearly head-on into the inside wall, putting a spectacular finish on the fifth race of the NASCAR season.
Logano managed to finish third despite wrecking into the outside wall after hitting Hamlin, who spun Logano last week at Bristol and sparked a bitter post-race confrontation that didn’t cool off during the past week.
“He probably shouldn’t have done what he did last week, so that’s what he gets,” Logano said.
Yet the 22-year-old Logano might have even bigger worries than his burgeoning feud with Hamlin, whose team expects him to be fine. Stewart got into a post-race shoving match with Logano, with the three-time champion threatening to “whoop his (butt)” after Logano aggressively blocked Stewart out of a late restart.
“It’s time he learns a lesson,” Stewart said. “He’s run his mouth long enough. ... He’s nothing but a little rich kid that’s never had to work in his life, so he’s going to learn what us working guys who had to work our way up (know about) how it works.”
Almost forgotten in the post-race frenzy was Busch, who led 125 of 200 laps in his Toyota and earned his first victory of the season when he sped past Hamlin and Logano on the final turn. Dale Earnhardt Jr. also ceded the spotlight, even though NASCAR’s most popular driver moved into the Sprint Cup Series points lead with his second-place finish.