TRUEX IS TUNED IN AT CALIFORNIA
Hodges News Service
FONTANA, Calif.-- Truex and his team really had their car tuned in for this race, said TV analyst Michael Waltrip after Sunday's Cup Series race.
Waltrip was referring to the fact that Martin Truex Jr. started on the pole, won both stages of the race, led 125 laps of the 200-lap race, and finished a whopping 11.665-seconds ahead of Kyle Larson, the second-place finisher.
The 2017 Cup Series champion's performance was so dominating that only 10 cars were on the lead lap when the checkered flag was given.
Just fighting hard is what did it, said Truex. We had a super car but we had problems on pit road. The team overcame them and this will be a day to remember for a long time. It's never easy winning one of these races. So much work goes into getting the car ready, and then when you get on the track all the other guys want to win just as much as you do. But to have a car that handled and responded like I had today makes it so much easier.
The win was his first of the 2018 season and the first ever at Fontana.
Kevin Harvick's stretch of good luck came to an end on lap 22. He had won the last three races and was shooting for his fourth consecutive one, when fate intervened. He was running the outside groove going down the backstretch when Kyle Larson attempted to pass underneath. The two cars came together, and Harvick's No. 4 shot up into the outside wall, ruining his day with a 35th-place finish.
We got into a side draft situation, said Harvick. He (Larson) was coming up and we touched. I think it was more my fault than his.
The poor finish dropped Harvick back to eighth in the points.
We were racing hard, and he came down, said the second-place finisher Kyle Larson. The cars got caught up in the draft and we made contact. I hate if for both of us, because he wanted to win, and it threw our car off a little.
Larson's runner-up finish moved him up to seventh in the points.
Kyle Busch, who led 62 laps was third.
I don't know what happened to the car near the end, said Busch. It was better in the first half. We worked on it, made some adjustments, but couldn't hold off Martin. I'm just glad that we were able to finish as well as we did.
Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson, and Austin Dillon rounded out the top-10 finishers.
Johnson's ninth place finish was his best after five races into the 36-race season.
We're getting better, said Johnson. Obviously, the season hasn't started out the way we would have liked for it to. We're finding little things and each week our cars seem to get better and better. If you ask me why we aren't doing better, I can't tell you. That's what racing is all about. You keep working until you get a good combination, then you try to improve on it. That's where we are.
With the exception of the Harvick and Larson altercation the only other mishaps involved drivers losing control and sliding up into the outside wall.
Top-10 leaders after 5 of 36: 1. Truex-216, 2. Kyle Busch-207, 3. Logano-197, 4. Keselowski-183, 5. Blaney-181, 6. Hamlin-176, 7. Larson-174, 8. Harvick-170, 9. Bowyer-155, 10. Almirola-148.
LOGANO DOMINATES XFINTY RACE
Joey Logano led all but 11 laps of Saturday's 150-lap Xfinity Series race at Fontana. Out of four races this season, Cup Series regulars have won three of them.
Top-10 finishers: 1. Logano, 2. Justin Allgaier, 3. Elliott Sadler, 4. Austin Dillon, 5. Daniel Hemric, 6. Cole Custer, 7. Tyler Reddick, 8. Matt Tifft, 9. Ryan Preece, 10. Ross Chastain.
Top-10 leaders after 4 of 33: 1. Sadler-199, 2. Reddick-195, 3. Allgaier-194, 4. Bell-172, 5. Hemric-169, 6. Custer-144, 7. Gallagher-143, 8. R. Truex-140, 9. B. Jones-139, 10. Tifft-132.
INSPECTION WOES, PENALTIES AND SPONSORSHIP
In a bizarre scene Friday at Auto Club Speedway, 13 of the 37 cars on the entry list failed their Cup Series prequalifying inspection
The cars in question for the most part failed the optical scanning inspection NASCAR introduced this year to check for body compliance. Those drivers had to line up at the rear of the field for Sunday's race ranked by points. Denny Hamlin started 25th, followed by Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, Alex Bowman, William Byron, Daniel Suarez, Chase Elliott, AJ Allmendinger, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Timmy Hill, Ross Chastain and Cole Whitt.
The qualifying issue forced NASCAR to tweak a rule for Sunday's race. Because those 13 cars did not run qualifying Friday, they would have had an unfair advantage starting Sunday's race on fresh tires. NASCAR announced late Friday that the other 24 teams would be allowed to start the race on sticker tires.
Kevin Harvick isn't the only driver to have received a post-race penalty this year. Chase Elliott was docked 25 points for a rear-suspension issue in his third-place finish at Phoenix.
Hendrick Motorsports will also be docked 25 owner points as they were issued an L1 penalty for violating, "Section 20.14.2 of the Rule Book, which deals with rear suspension and trailing arm angles/pinion angle shims. According to the penalty report: Truck trailing arm spacer/pinion angle shim surfaces must be in complete contact at all points, at all times. Failure to adhere to that can create additional sideforce and is a violation."
Crew chief Alan Gustafson has also been fined $50,000 and car chief Josh Kirk has been suspended for two races.
Meanwhile Lowe's sponsorship of the No. 48 Hendrick Chevrolet will end after the 2018 season.
Hendrick Motorsports announced that Jimmie Johnson and his team will no longer be sponsored by Lowe's beginning in 2019. Michael P. McDermott, Lowe's chief customer officer, said the company will be looking to invest in other strategic initiatives.
Working with Hendrick Motorsports, Jimmie, Chad (Knaus) and the entire No. 48 team has been an incredible journey, McDermott said in a statement. Rick Hendrick and his organization have been exceptional partners, and we could not have asked for more from Jimmie a consummate champion and an incredible representative for our brand and his sport.
Lowe's has sponsored Johnson and the No. 48 car since 2001. It is one of the longest running sponsorships in racing.
During the time working with Johnson, the team won seven championships, including five straight from 2006-2010.
Johnson's current driving contract with Hendrick expires in 2020.
Weekly Racing Joke: Did you hear that Paul Menard is getting a new crew chief from China? His name is Win-Won Soon.
Weekend Racing: The Truck and Cup teams are at Martinsville, the smallest track on the circuit (0.53-miles). The Xfinity Series does not race again until April 7.
Sat., Mar. 24; Truck Series race 4 of 23; Starting time: 2 pm ET; TV: FoxSports1.
Sun., Mar. 25; Cup Series race 6 of 36; Starting time: 2 pm ET; TV: FoxSports1.
Racing Trivia Question: Who does Justin Allgaier drive for in the Xfinity Series?
Last Week's Question: What year did NASCAR hold the first race at Martinsville, VA? Answer. The first race was held Sept. 25, 1949.
Gerald Hodges is a syndicated NASCAR photojournalist and author. You may contact him by e-mail at: email@example.com.