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NASCAR's crazy day in Southern California: A postscript

March 25, 2013|By Jim Peltz
  • Joey Logano is held back by crew members following an altercation on track with Tony Stewart (not pictured)after the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday.
Joey Logano is held back by crew members following an altercation on track… (Jonathan Ferrey / Getty…)

NASCAR drivers are too vanilla. Racing at Auto Club Speedway is too boring. The sport's new car isn't racy enough.

Tell that to the 80,000-plus fans who jammed into the Fontana track Sunday.

They watched what might go down as the wildest, most entertaining NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season, and there are still 31 races to go.

Feuding drivers Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin were in a thrilling side-by-side duel when they crashed into each other on the last lap. Kyle Busch streaked past them for the win as the crowd erupted. Tony Stewart, angry at Logano for an earlier blocking move, then got into a fight with Logano on pit road.

It's true that NASCAR drivers sometimes are too circumspect for fear of upsetting NASCAR's bosses and the drivers' sponsors.

It's true that the near 200-mph racing at the wide, two-mile Fontana track sometimes means strung out cars until a caution period bunches them back together.

It's true that NASCAR's new Gen-6 car, at least at first, didn't seem to make NASCAR racing much more exciting than the prior car.

But Logano, Hamlin, Stewart and Busch reminded everyone why NASCAR is popular in the first place. Rivalries are what make sports compelling in general and what comprise the fabric of NASCAR in particular. And the drivers were passing each other high and low in the new car.

Auto Club Speedway was the first NASCAR track to get slammed by the economy's collapse a few years ago and attendance suffered. The track once had two Cup races a year; now it has one.

That pullback in popularity then spread throughout NASCAR and its speedways. Television ratings also fell.

But Auto Club Speedway president Gillian Zucker and her staff kept aggressively marketing their remaining race, and Sunday's crowd was up by about 10,000 from a year ago.

The fireworks they witnessed at the Auto Club 400 has NASCAR Nation buzzing Monday and might spawn renewed growth in NASCAR's popularity during the rest of the season.

If so, NASCAR's next trend also will have started in Southern California before spreading elsewhere.

ALSO:

Bill Dwyre: NASCAR road rage at 170 mph

Watch Denny Hamlin crash after collision with Joey Logano

Kyle Busch takes advantage of final-lap crash to win Auto Club 400

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