The Auto Club 400 concluded the #NASCARGoesWest instalment of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, and Martin Truex Jr. secured his first win of the 2018 season in Fontana, California, putting the #78 in Victory Lane for the sixteenth time in his career.
Not only did he win the race, but he also started on pole position and maintained that same spot at the finish of all three stages. This is the third time he’s done this in his career, the first two at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway.
As the green flag flew for the 200 lap event, Truex Jr. led the field alongside Kyle Busch. As for the winner of the past three weekends, Kevin Harvick started back in the tenth position battling for his fourth straight win. The first stage was relatively uneventful, as Busch and Truex set the pace out front.
It wasn’t until only 23 laps left in the first stage when trouble struck Harvick as he was battling Kyle Larson for third place. When side by side, Harvick claims “I just couldn’t see the kid,” as he came down on Larson’s right side. As a reaction, he swerved and made contact with the outside wall and soared down the track, barely missing the inside wall.
Per NASCAR rules, the #4 team had a six minute period to repair the vehicle under close watch and, providing the car could reach minimum speed, was given the ability to pit when necessary in order to make further repairs. Harvick did well to finish only nine laps down, but diminished the hope for four wins in a row.
Three laps after the restart, Ryan Blaney hit the outside wall in Turn 2 and fell to the 32nd position with no caution thrown. Stage 1 ended with Truex Jr., Busch and Larson running 1-2-3.
Stage 2 began with Truex Jr. leading the pack after a frantic round of pit stops where the top three maintained position. Again, the stage was calm until Trevor Bayne caught Ryan Newman’s right rear and sustained minor damage. He remained steady until a tyre blew in Turn 4, causing a caution on Lap 108.
As the entire field took this opportunity to pit, Busch exited before Truex Jr., claiming the first position for the restart. As the green flag flew, Truex Jr. wasted no time in reclaiming the lead to the finish of the second stage.
The final stage began with Kasey Kahne and William Byron taking the chance to stay out from pit road, as they took four tyres the previous stop. However, before the first lap of the stage closed, Busch came up from fourth position to lead.
Truex Jr. quickly caught up with Busch and trailed in third position with Joey Logano placed between them, with Larson rounding out the top five as he says he’s “still feeling the effect of the contact with Harvick.”
The final caution of the race was caused by David Ragan on Lap 130 blowing a tyre. This caused the rest of the field to pit. Truex Jr. had once again a great stop to keep the lead with Busch in second.
On the restart, Truex immediately began to pull ahead and lead the following 70 laps with very little issue. There were only three lead changes, all between the #78 and #18. With 28 laps to go, Truex Jr. began to gain an impressive three second lead over Busch that only increased from there.
As Truex led the field to the checkers, his gap out front became a superb 11.7 seconds over Busch in second. This is the fourth largest margin of victory in NASCAR history, and the largest since Kurt Busch’s 25.7 second victory at Texas Motor Speedway in 2009. Truex claims “I was a bit worried there, I’m glad we came through it all.”
The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series finalises their tour West and heads back to the East to compete at the Martinsville Speedway on March 25th.