NASCAR Barometer: Truex Completes California Sweep

NASCAR Barometer: Truex Completes California Sweep

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

Martin Truex Jr. started from pole and won every segment of Sunday's Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, to end Kevin Harvick's streak of victories and claim Toyota's first win of the season. The effort was the first time a driver has ever won every segment starting from poll, and it evokes memories of the team's 2017 season domination on their way to claiming the championship. While Harvick was the dominant force until last weekend, Truex firmly wrested control of that title with Sunday's run. It was a clean race for the No. 78 team despite the team not being fastest on pit road, and mistakes from other top contenders made it marginally easier.

This week, the series heads back to the East Coast as they attack Martinsville Speedway. The flat concrete oval is the first short-track race of the season, and will test teams and drivers in a way they haven't seen yet this season. Brad Keselowski is the defending race winner, but Kyle Busch won at the track in the fall.

UPGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – After saying the team was searching for the handling in his chassis, Truex seemed to have found an acceptable formula in Fontana. Truex was one of the fastest cars in practice and qualifying, and leapt out to lead much of the first segment en route to his first stage win of the season. He backed that up by winning the second segment with a comfortable margin as well,

Martin Truex Jr. started from pole and won every segment of Sunday's Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, to end Kevin Harvick's streak of victories and claim Toyota's first win of the season. The effort was the first time a driver has ever won every segment starting from poll, and it evokes memories of the team's 2017 season domination on their way to claiming the championship. While Harvick was the dominant force until last weekend, Truex firmly wrested control of that title with Sunday's run. It was a clean race for the No. 78 team despite the team not being fastest on pit road, and mistakes from other top contenders made it marginally easier.

This week, the series heads back to the East Coast as they attack Martinsville Speedway. The flat concrete oval is the first short-track race of the season, and will test teams and drivers in a way they haven't seen yet this season. Brad Keselowski is the defending race winner, but Kyle Busch won at the track in the fall.

UPGRADE

Martin Truex Jr. – After saying the team was searching for the handling in his chassis, Truex seemed to have found an acceptable formula in Fontana. Truex was one of the fastest cars in practice and qualifying, and leapt out to lead much of the first segment en route to his first stage win of the season. He backed that up by winning the second segment with a comfortable margin as well, and then finished the job by easing away from Kyle Busch to win the race in a grand-slam effort. Truex has three top-five finishes from 24 starts at Martinsville. He also started in the top five in five of the last six races at the track and has proven that Harvick can be beaten.

Kyle Larson – Larson overcame multiple hurdles on Sunday to scrape out a runner-up finish. He survived early contact with Harvick as well as a wheel issue that forced him to pit and fall to the middle of the pack in the final segment. Still, Larson was quick at one of his best circuits and climbed back into contention for the win before finishing second behind Truex. Larson has only finished better than 14th at Martinsville once, and that was when he finished third in this race two years ago. He started from pole at the track last spring but only managed finishes of 17th and 37th at the paperclip oval in the two visits last season.

Brad Keselowski – Keselowski didn't have the early speed advantage enjoyed by others last week, but he and the team worked to find what would give them an opportunity to be competitive in the race. They improved their machine throughout the weekend, which gave them the chance to score a top-five in a well-earned effort after a tough few races in the shadow of other teams. Results could get better, too. Keselowski won last year's spring Martinsville race, and last week's finish could give him the confidence he and the team need to produce another stunner. He hasn't finished outside of the top five at this track since 2015, which should give fantasy owners plenty of confidence in him ahead of this week's race.

Jimmie Johnson – By running inside the top five in the opening segment of Sunday's race, Johnson picked up his first stage points of the season in Fontana. It has been rough start to the season, but the No. 48 team is improving step by step. He had 10 consecutive finishes outside of the top 10 before Sunday's race, but ended that streak with a ninth-place finish. That should be simply the first step of many in the right direction for the team. Johnson has an incredible nine career victories at Martinsville Speedway, but only tallied a best finish of 12th at the track last season. This week will be a good indication of how much the team is improving after a very slow start to the season.

Joey Logano – Logano has largely been overshadowed this season. He has had some decent results but also has endured significant struggles as well. Penske Racing put all three cars in the top 10 at Auto Club Speedway, and Logano scored his fifth top-five finish at the track. It was a good weekend for the winner of the Xfinity series race on Saturday, and it could set him back on the path toward Victory Lane on a more consistent basis. He finished fourth in the spring Martinsville race last season but has started from pole at the track in four of the last six races. In fact, he hasn't started worse than sixth at the track since the fall of 2012.

DOWNGRADE

Kevin Harvick – It didn't take long for Harvick's quest for four consecutive wins to come undone in Sunday's race. Contact with Larson off of turn 2 sent Harvick into the wall, resulting in serious damage to the No. 4 machine. He said the issue was his mistake as he tried to side-draft the No. 42 machine, but it was more than enough to ruin his afternoon. Multiple stops to fix the damage didn't get the job completely done, and he drifted farther back from the leaders as the first stage progressed. Harvick has one Martinsville victory from 33 career tries. That win came in 2011, and he hasn't led any laps at the track in his last three starts.

Kyle Busch – Busch was at the sharp end of the field throughout last weekend. While he wasn't the fastest early, he was there to lead laps when possible. He finished third in the second segment and seemed to have the measure of most of the field after Truex until a mistake on pit road spelled his end. A team member made a chassis adjustment in the wrong direction for the No. 18, and that caused Busch to lose touch with the lead and cling to life for whatever finish he could manage. It was a massive mistake that cost them the race. Busch has two Martinsville wins, including last fall's triumph. He hasn't finished outside of the top five at the track in his last five races there.

Paul Menard – Another Ford encountering trouble in California was Menard. The No. 21 car touched the outside wall and was on his way to pit road when Trevor Bayne brought out the caution for contact. Menard has been a value option for many fantasy rosters since joining Wood Brothers Racing for the 2018 season, and his finishes have been paying off, too. His average result heading into Fontana was 17.0, which was his best number since 2012 when his average finish for the season was 15.5. He charged back into the top 15 in the final segment but faded again in the final laps. Menard shouldn't be written off this week despite his Martinsville resume of two top-10 finishes from 21 career starts.

Trevor Bayne – The 2018 season has been nothing like 2017 for Bayne. While he was a consistent value for fantasy options last season, he has struggled through the opening rounds of 2018. Contact with Ryan Newman cause a tire failure that sent him into the outside wall and out of Sunday's race. His best finish of the season was 13th at Daytona. He finished 20 races last season on the lead lap but hasn't done that once yet this season. His average finish from 2017 was 19.5, but he averaged just 22.0 heading into last week's race. Roush Fenway Racing had upside potential for fantasy rosters last season but is seriously struggling to perform at par for fantasy owners thus far.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Ryan Blaney – Contact with the outside wall forced Blaney into an unscheduled pit stop with just a handful of laps remaining in the first stage of Sunday's Auto Club 400. After the team made repairs he became a man on a mission. By the time the final laps were winding down, Blaney found himself comfortably inside the top 10 after those early-race problems. It was an impressive rebound from the new team. Blaney has just one top-10 finish from four Martinsville starts but that finish was eighth last fall after he started fourth. While he doesn't have the best record at the track, he could still be a decent fantasy option if practice and qualifying go well.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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