Martin Truex Jr. started on the pole, swept both stages and crossed the finish line first at the end of the day. Truex Jr. became the third winner of the season and broke Kevin Harvick’s three race win streak. He led 125 of the 200 laps on the day, and clinched his playoff berth with the victory. By sweeping the stages and winning at Auto Club, he became the second driver of the season to drive for the cycle.
Although Truex Jr. started on the pole, it was Kyle Busch who had the speed early on. After 10 laps he wrestled the lead away from Truex Jr. and led the field until green-flag pit stops began. After the pit stops cycled through, Truex Jr. regained the lead.
Shortly after, Kevin Harvick would bring out the caution after contact with Kyle Larson and the wall. As Larson was passing, Harvick cut down and made contact with Larson. The contact turned Harvick’s car hard into the outside wall and then spinning down the apron. The damage was repairable, but significant enough to take him out of contention for a fourth straight win. He finished the race 35th, nine laps down. Larson barely received any damage from the incident.
Truex Jr. went on to win the stage, surprisingly, only his first of the season. Jimmie Johnson ended the first stage in fifth, earning him his first stage points of the season.
To begin the second stage, Joey Logano won the race of pit road. He restarted first and led for a handful of laps before Truex Jr. took the lead away.
The majority of the stage was a long green flag run until the caution came out in the dying laps of the stage. Trevor Bayne attempted to pass Ryan Newman high, but ran out of room and made contact with the outside wall. This created a tire rub on Bayne’s car that wouldn’t last long. After just a few laps the tire blew, sending him hard into the wall and bringing out the caution.
All the drivers came down pit road and got tires and fuel for the seven lap shootout to end the stage. Truex Jr. came out first, followed by Kyle Busch in second. Truex held onto the lead to win his second stage of the day. Rookie William Byron made a pass on the last lap of the stage to finish 10th and earn his first stage point of the season.
Kyle Busch won the race off pit road to start the final stage. He chose the outside, leaving second place Truex Jr. on the inside. Busch held Truex back for three laps until the caution came out again. David Ragan blew a tire and slammed into the outside wall, he was running 20th at the time.
All the cars would come down pit road again and get fresh tires and fuel. Byron elected to only take two tires and beat everyone off pit road. He restarted first, but wasn’t able to hold on to lead a lap after the green flag. Kyle Busch made quick work of him in half a lap and ran away with the lead.
With 43 laps to go Truex Jr. was able to run down Busch. After battling for several laps, Truex finally slipped past him for the lead. Just laps after this green flag pit stops began for the final time. Both Truex and Busch came down to pit at the same time. Busch was just a tad quicker getting off pit road and was able to beat Truex out.
During Busch’s pit stop a member of his pit crew made an incorrect adjustment. The adjustment made Busch’s car much looser and rendered him uncompetitive in comparison to Truex. After just a handful of laps, with 32 to go, he relinquished the lead to Truex Jr. for the final time.
He immediately began to pull away from Busch and the rest of the field and maintain a healthy lead for the remainder of the race.
With 19 laps to go Kyle Larson was able to run down and pass Busch to take away second place.
The previous four Auto Club races featured a late caution that pushed the race into overtime. As the laps wound down, the last thing Truex Jr. wanted to see was a caution and his wish was granted. There was no late caution for the first time in the last five Auto Club races and he was able to easily coast to victory.
Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano rounded out the top-5. Jimmie Johnson finished ninth, marking his best finish of the season. This was his first top-10 of the year, and his first in the last 11 races, ending a career-long top-10 drought.
Next week NASCAR visits Martinsville for a race that is likely to feature more contact and cautions than the fans witnessed at Auto Club this afternoon.
Featured image from NASCAR.com.
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