For most of its life California Speedway was routinely dismissed by racefans because of the lack of ferocious racing there. A track like this was what NASCAR had in mind with its controversial Generation Six racecar, and entering Winston Cup's Easter bye weekend, something decidedly unexpected is happening here.
A sign there was something about this weekend showed in the Nationwide 300 won by Kyle Busch, a spirited affair with several very good battles up front. The Cal 400 then saw some decent racing before a late caution set off a shocking ten-lap shootout between cars on worn tires and cars on fresh tires. It began with seven-abreast into One and then it all got ugly on the final lap between Joey Logano and Denny Hamlin and both crashed - but the worst came when Hamlin stabbed hard into the concrete and was hospitalized overnight with a compression fracture in his lower back.
Some criticized that the area he hit didn't have a SAFER barrier, but after Michael Annett and Eric McClure's bad injuries when they hit one it's not a particularly valid criticism anymore.
The wreck renews questions about the fundamental fitness to be in this sport of Joey Logano. Racecaster Dave Moody likens the incident to Logano now standing his ground as a racer. Roger Penske defended Logano after the wreck but Logano was in a fight last week after a wreck and now was in the middle of this melee and then got into an actual punches-thrown brawl on pit road. Logano's career in effect started by wiping out a group of cars in the Toyota All Star Race at Irwindale in 2009 and continued through a pathetic career with Joe Gibbs Racing - that career clearly has brought out a savagery in Hamlin as their feud since Logano went to Penske Racing has become perhaps THE story of the season so far.
Except there are other stories right now. NASCAR's Generation Six racecar has been criticized because it came out of box poorly at Daytona and Phoenix. Since then, though, there was some decent racing at Vegas and a spirited affair at Bristol, and now comes Fontana's wildest finish ever. This thing may actually start making believers out of people.
There is also the worn out nature of Fontana's asphalt, a fact that earned rave reviews from just about everyone from the TV broadcasters (if Andy Petree uses the word "character" again I'll explode) to Dale Earnhardt Jr, though he did complain about the bumpiness at the end of the backstretch. The idea that tracks need worn asphalt to put on good racing, though, seems a stretch after seeing good racing on new pavement at Pocono and elsewhere.
A curious aspect of the race is also Logano's Ford, which was missing the left corner of its front splitter - yet seemed to run better without it than with it.
Another angle is that in the frantic finish Kyle Busch and Logano among several others did not get tires under the late caution - Carl Edwards, Jeff Gordon, Dale Junior, and Hamlin were drivers who got fresh tires and bolted through the field yet once they got there had nothing for the leaders. I wonder what those drivers were thinking when they found the cars on old tires held them off despite fresh tires.
In any event the Easter bye gives the sport something to chew on and also gives it reason for optimism about where it's going after all.