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Martin Truex Jr. grabs 1st win of NASCAR season at Fontana

Martin Truex Jr. runs with the checkered flag after winning the NASCAR Cup Series auto race in Fontana, Calif., Sunday, March 18, 2018. (James Quigg/The Daily Press via AP)

By GREG BEACHAM

AP Sports Writer

FONTANA, Calif. (AP) Martin Truex Jr. saw nothing but clean air and green flags down the stretch in his first victory of the new NASCAR Cup 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 disappointed 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?'" said Truex, who led 125 laps overall. "`When are you going to win any stages?' Well, here you go."

When Truex got a series of post-race questions about Harvick, the defending champ suggested that Furniture Row proved early on that it can hang with Stewart-Haas Racing.

"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."

Here are more things to know about the race at Fontana:

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 standings points. Harvick 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 2017 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 9TH: 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. Truex passed Busch for good with 32 laps to go. 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.

UP NEXT: Martinsville on March 25.

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More AP auto racing: https://racing.ap.org

Updated March 19, 2018

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