A bobble by Kyle Busch opened the door for Martin Truex Jr. and that was all the defending series champion needed.
Truex pounced when Busch got loose off Turn 2 with 32 laps to go in the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway. Taking the lead for the final time, Truex drove away from the field to a dominating 11.6-second lead, leaving just 10 cars on the lead lap.
The 16th victory of Truex’s career is his first of the season and it came after he started on the pole and swept all three stages. He led 125 of 200 laps.
“Just fighting hard and we never gave up on it,” Truex said of his day. “I knew we had a really good race car after, honestly, the first adjustment of the race the thing came alive and from there it was just managing my tires and being smart.
“We had a little trouble getting beat out of the pits and that was tough, and one run we fell back to fifth and had to work our way back up and I just really had to take care of my front tires. And once we could get some clean air, this thing was unbelievable.”
The bid for four straight wins did not happen for Kevin Harvick, who finished 35th and multiple laps down after crashing on Lap 39 with Kyle Larson.
Larson was able to continue and finished second after getting around Busch with 18 laps to go. But the No. 42 continually lost ground to Truex as the laps wound down.
Rounding out the top five were Kyle Busch and the Team Penske duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano. Busch led the race’s second-most laps at 62.
Truex was the hunter after he fell to second on his final pit stop, having come down pit road as the leader. Both Truex and Kyle Busch pitted together with 38 laps to and Busch beat Truex off pit road as he launched out of his pit stall, which was directly behind Truex’s, better than the 78 did.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) March 18, 2018
The lead didn’t last long. Truex led on six different occasions on his way to his first Fontana victory.
Completing the top 10 were Denny Hamlin, Erik Jones, Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson, and Austin Dillon.
The race featured 16 lead changes among seven drivers and five caution flags.