Martin Truex Jr. faces uphill battle in Sunday’s race

Martin Truex Jr. picked up his first and only victory at Auto Club Speedway in 2018, but he’ll face a major challenge in trying to become a repeat winner in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

Truex’s No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota failed pre-qualifying inspection three times on Saturday morning. By rule, Truex was not allowed to post a lap in time trials, relegating the 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion to the last (38th) starting position for the third event of the season.

Though Truex was pleased with the performance of his car in Friday’s practices, he’ll have to work especially hard to make significant progress on the two-mile track. Truex, at least, has the right attitude for the job.

“I’m always optimistic,” he said. “I did feel good about our car (in practice) and seemed like long runs we were strong. Hopefully, we’ll have a lot of those tomorrow and be able to use those to our advantage.”

Truex said the inspection failures were the result of compounding problems.

“I guess we failed a small spot on the body the first time through and then fixed it, came back and then got into the LIS (laser inspection station) roulette game. Chased that around a few times and here we are.”

Making his charge to the front even more difficult is the abrasive asphalt at Auto Club—all but eliminating two-tire calls to gain track position.

“There’s not many opportunities here because of tire wear,” Truex said. “You have to put tires on. If you don’t, you’re just going to get run over. We’re just going to have to pass some guys and look forward to having some fun.”

Greg Engle