Martin Truex Jr. looked back in championship form on Sunday, winning the 2018 finale of “NASCAR Goes West” at Auto Club Speedway. Truex looked as if he was on a mission to start a mirror-image of last season, which led to him being crowned champion. Sunday, Truex dominated, leading 125 of 200 laps. After starting on the pole and winning the first two stages, Truex beat Kyle Larson to the finish by 11.685 seconds.
Sunday’s win allowed Truex to finally answer those asking him when he would find victory lane again.
“People kept asking ‘When are you going to win again? When are you going to win one of these stages?” said Truex, who went to Victory Lane eight times last year. “Well, there you go.”
Truex felt his ability to have such a strong run in California was helped by managing his tires and finding clean air.
“I knew we really had a good race car after the first adjustment of the race,” Truex said. “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 point we fell back to fifth, and then we needed to work our way back up. I really just needed to take care of my front tires, and once we got some clean air, this thing was unbelievable,” he said.
The win at ACS was the first win for Truex at the 2-mile speedway and the 16th of his career. However, victory wasn’t a given, especially with all the talk of Kevin Harvick going for four wins in a row. Harvick entered the race after winning the last three races. He dominated Saturday’s practices, so the field expected Harvick to be strong. He was, but on Lap 37, coming off Turn 2, Larson got into his left-rear as the 2017 ACS winner tried to catch the car. Both drivers kept their machines straight, but as they raced down the backstretch, Harvick expressed his displeasure with Larson by hitting his right-side door. The contact upset Harvick’s Ford, causing his car to bounce off Larson, turn right into the outside wall, then spin to the bottom of the track. Harvick would finish 35th, nine laps down.
The early unexpected crash for Harvick led to Truex and Kyle Bush battling for the lead regularly throughout the rest of the race. After the jack fell on a late pit stop, Bush couldn’t recover, finishing third behind Larson and Truex.
Larson had to charge through the field at different points during the race after making precautionary pit stops as Larson and his team wrestled with a vibration in his Chevrolet.
“We had a lot of weird issues, vibrations, and different stuff that happened where we had to restart at the back and drive back forward,” Larson said. The runner-up finish for Larson ended his run of four consecutive wins on 2-mile tracks. Larson felt like finishing second was a good day, even though he wasn’t Sunday’s dominating driver.
“It seemed like we could always get to third or fourth and kind of stall out there. Still, a really good day. The 78 (Truex) was really good. I think the 4 (Harvick) — he didn’t get to race a lot, but he was probably the best car again,” Larson said.
The finish meant Truex is at the top of the championship, leading Bush by nine points. After his crash, Harvick went from leading the points to eighth in the standings.
Listen below for Ep. 5 of Track Talk and check back next week for the breakdown from Martinsville Speedway.