While all eyes were on Kevin Harvick, it turned out to be Martin Truex Jr. who not only stole the show but dominated at Auto Club Speedway Sunday. How dominate was he? Truex became the first driver in NASCAR Cup history to win the pole, then both stages and the race as he took the checkered flag in Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Auto Club 400 in Fontana California.
The reigning Cup champion beat Kyle Larson to the line by 11.685 seconds to score his first win of the season and his first at Auto Club Speedway.
“We were just fighting hard and never gave up on it,” Truex said. “I knew we really had a good racecar after the first adjustment of the race. The thing just came alive. From there it was just about managing my tires and being smart. We had a little trouble getting beat out of the pits and that was tough. At one run we fell back to fifth and then we needed to work our way back up. I really just needed to care of my front tires and once we got some clean air this thing was unbelievable.”
That Larson was able to recover is a story in and of itself. Larson was involved in an incident earlier in the race the ensured Kevin Harvick would be denied a fourth consecutive win.
On lap 37 while the two were dueling to a spot inside the top five, Larson got under Harvick getting Harvick loose. Exiting the turn Harvick came down and into Larson. Harvick was sent spinning into the outside wall while Larson raced on. Harvick was able to continue but had extensive damage and finished several laps down in 35th.
“I went down to side draft and he was coming up and we touched, and it just knocked the thing to the right and spun out,” A contrite Harvick said. “I don’t know that it’s his fault. I think that’s my fault for coming down the race track right there and trying to side draft and then as we touch it just came back up the race track. I was just trying to get a little too much right there.
Larson meanwhile made several pit stops to repair the damage. The diver who had won the last four races at 2-mile tracks charged back through the field for his runner-up finish.
“We were racing really hard and I was better than him in three and four and he was better than me in one and two,” Larson said of the Harvick incident. “I would side draft him down the front stretch and he would side draft me down the back stretch and I don’t know if he was just coming down to side draft me or what but we made contact and it spun his car to the right.”
Kyle Busch who finished third seemed to be about the only legitimate contender to Truex. He led a total of 62 laps. But on what turned out to be the final stops of the day under green with just under 35 to go, Busch’s crew made the wrong adjustment on his Toyota. Truex was able to get by for the lead with 33 laps to go and Busch was able to nurse an extremely loose car to a third-place finish.
Brad Keselowski was fourth with his Penske teammate Joey Logano, who led 9 laps in fifth.
“The 78 had a great car,” said Logano, who won Saturday’s Xfinity race in similar dominate fashion. “I was in front of him for about five laps and I was like, ‘Hey,’ but it was short-lived. Overall, it was a good weekend. We got a top-five here and a win yesterday is great. I would have liked to sweep the races here at Auto Club and we’re just trying to get this Auto Club Fusion to Victory Lane at Auto Club Speedway.”
Denny Hamlin was sixth, Erik Jones seventh and Ryan Blaney ninth. Jimmie Johnson ran as high as fourth at one point and finished 10th, breaking the longest streak he had of not finishing inside the top 10 dating back 22 races.
“Each week we have been getting a little bit better,” Johnson said. “We are definitely not happy with where we are right now but we are seeing the improvements, we have been seeing it internally. We are making the cars drive better and better and we are getting more competitive.”
Austin Dillon was the last car on the lead lap in 10th.
NASCAR heads back to the east coast for next Sunday’s STP 400 at Martinsville Speedway. Live coverage will be on Fox Sports 1 starting at 2:00 p.m. ET.