FONTANA, Calif.—If something could go wrong for Martin Truex Jr. this year, it already has, and the streak of rotten luck continued Saturday at Auto Club Speedway.
Eight laps into a planned 10-lap run during the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice session of the day, the left rear tire on Truex’s No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet exploded. The resulting impact with the Turn 2 wall damaged the car severely enough to force the team to a backup machine.
After qualifying on the outside of the front row for the Feb. 23 Daytona 500, Truex was collected on the last lap of his Budweiser Duel 150-mile qualifying race. The car came to rest in the tri-oval grass, spewing flames, and Truex had to start NASCAR’s most prestigious race from the rear of the field in a backup car.
That was the first time, Truex said, he had ever had to use a backup car in the Sprint Cup Series. In the race itself, Truex retired with a blown engine.
In his first year with Furniture Row, Truex has a best finish of 14th at Las Vegas, and the wreck at Fontana only added to his misery.
“I hate it for the team, because we had a good race car there, and it’s been a really tough start to the year for us, with a lot of these types of things happening to us,” Truex said. “It’s unfortunate.
“The good news is, hopefully the bad luck’s out of the way for this weekend. We’ve got to start in the back, but hopefully we won’t finish in the back.”
On Twitter, Truex summed up his feelings in a single word. “Unbelievable…,” he wrote.
Truex wasn’t the only driver, however, who had issues with the left rear tire. Both Joey Logano and Penske teammate Brad Keselowski suffered flat left rears—Keselowski twice.
The combination of a taller spoiler (increasing downforce) and more latitude with rear camber had every crew chief in the Cup garage paying close attention to left rear tire wear, as final practice progressed later in the afternoon.
Kevin Harvick paced Saturday’s first practice with a lap at 186.018 mph. Brian Vickers was fastest in Happy Hour at 185.926 mph, in a session that saw Joey Logano smack the outside wall after blowing a left front tire.
Logano’s team rolled out a backup No. 22 Ford with roughly 12 minutes left in final practice, but Logano will have to give up his seventh-place position on the grid start from the rear in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 with no time on the track for the backup car.
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