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Truex drives off with victory at Fontana

Associated Press • Mar 19, 2018 at 1:04 AM

FONTANA, Calif. — Martin Truex Jr. saw nothing but clean air and green flags down the stretch in his first victory of the new Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

Truex didn’t get much of a look at Kevin Harvick, whose bid for four straight wins was ruined by an early crash at Fontana.

So even while Truex’s Furniture Row Racing Toyota team celebrated, it was a wee bit disappointing not to get a duel with the early-season king.

“I think we would have had something for him today,” team owner Barney Visser said.

Truex roared to victory at Fontana on Sunday, beating Kyle Larson by 11 seconds to claim the first win of the season for last year’s series champion.

Truex won both stages before rolling to the checkered flag on his 16th career victory and his first since that glorious championship day at Homestead last November. His first career victory at Fontana even moved Truex into the overall points lead, thanks to Harvick’s woes.

Harvick dragged his damaged car to a 35th-place finish after early contact with Larson ruined his day. But after dominating at Auto Club Speedway, Truex’s team was no longer certain Harvick has the fastest ride in the field.

“It just feels good to win,” said Truex, who became the third driver to win from the pole at Fontana. “I don’t really worry about who else is fast. Obviously (Harvick) has been quick. They’ve got a great team, and Kevin is an awesome driver. But as we’ve seen today, we can put together a run as well.”

Truex took the lead for good with 32 laps left by getting past Kyle Busch, who finished third. Brad Keselowski was fourth.

“People kept asking, ‘When are you going to win again? When are you going to win any stages?’ ” said Truex, who led 125 laps overall. “Well, here you go.”

Truex said his Furniture Row team proved early on in the race that it can hang with Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing outfit.

“That first pit stop was under green, and he came in pretty close (to me),” Truex said. “We left pit road, and I drove away from him. That was the only gauge I really had of that. ... I’m sure we’ll have plenty of chances to race each other throughout the rest of the season.”

KEVIN’S SMACK

Harvick’s bid to become the 14th driver ever to win four straight races ended when he hit the wall after side-to-side contact with Larson on the 37th lap. Harvick’s flapping bumper was the most obvious problem, but he made a nice save down the track to avoid an interior wall.

Harvick took the blame for the mistake.

“I went down to side-draft and (Larson) was coming up and we touched, and it just knocked the thing to the right and spun out,” Harvick said. “I don’t know that it’s his fault. I think that’s my fault for coming down the racetrack right there and trying to side-draft, and then as we touch, it just came back up the racetrack. I was just trying to get a little too much right there.”

Harvick’s car was repaired, and he managed to earn two points in the standings.

He had won in Atlanta, Las Vegas and Phoenix before arriving in his home state for an attempt to become the second driver in this century to win four straight.

CLEAN SWEEP

Truex won both stages and a race for the third time in his career. He also accomplished the feat at Las Vegas and Chicagoland during his championship season.

“I would have liked to be one spot better, but I couldn’t even see Martin,” said Larson, the race’s defending champion.

JJ IN NINTH

Six-time Fontana champ Jimmie Johnson finished ninth for his first top-10 finish of the season, ending a 10-race skid outside the top 10 — the worst such stretch of his career. Johnson’s winless streak reached 28 races, also his longest in a career that began in 2001.

BACK AND FORTH

Truex and Busch traded the lead during the final stage, but Busch had a problematic pit stop that left his car handling poorly.

Busch was less than pleased afterward.

WHO’S HOT

Larson didn’t let that early contact stop him from recording his best finish in 13 races since last season.

WHO’S NOT

Trevor Bayne’s day ended on the 108th lap when he smacked the wall.

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