FONTANA, Calif. – The traditional Auto Club 400 race week for Martin Truex Jr. combines his two sporting passions – auto racing and fishing.
“I stayed the whole week out here in California. I got some buddies that live out here that I get together with. I had a good week fishing,” Truex Jr. said when recalling some of his lasting memories leading up to last year’s Auto Club 400.
In fact, Truex Jr. arrived at Auto Club Speedway on Thursday after another successful bass session at Diamond Valley, a nearby fishing hole.
Though, that catch doesn’t compare to the one he reeled in at the two-mile oval in Fontana, the figurative ‘big fish’ which had eluded his hook for 17 previous starts – the checkered flag in the 2018 Auto Club 400.
On Friday, Truex Jr. joined Auto Club Speedway’s Walk of Fame, etching his footprints and signature in the fresh cement surrounding his Walk of Fame plaque – along with receiving the Jersey Mike’s surfboard – and putting the finishing touches on one of his career highlights.
While he will be in the No. 19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota – following his offseason move from Furniture Row Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing – for the 23rd-annual Auto Club 400 on Sunday at 12:30 p.m., Truex’s cemented his signature with the No. 78 – the car he drove to last year’s win.
“It’s just cool to think about how long this is going to be here. Knowing how long Auto Club Speedway has been around and is going to be here, it’s going to be here long after I’m done,” Truex Jr. said. “I’ve always really, really loved this race track and to finally get a win here and break through, it’s cool. A lot of great race fans out here.”
Truex Jr.’s plaque rests to the right of 2017 champion Kyle Larson and immediately below Jimmie Johnson, Auto Club Speedway’s winningest driver, and Jeff Gordon, Auto Club Speedway’s first NASCAR Cup Series race winner (in 1997) and first Walk of Fame member.
Located on the east end of the FanZone just outside of the track’s Gate B entrance, the Auto Club Speedway Walk of Fame inducts all of its past NASCAR Cup Series race winners and is always a fan-favorite, must-see landmark.
Truex is the 17th MENCS drivers to be cemented into Auto Club Speedway’s Walk of Fame. The honor roll includes six-time ACS winner Jimmie Johnson, three-time ACS winners Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Matt Kenseth, two-time winner Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, Brad Keselowski, Kevin Harvick, Mark Martin, Jeremy Mayfield, Rusty Wallace, Kurt Busch, Elliott Sadler, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne and Carl Edwards.
When asked by a fan at the Walk of Fame ceremony about his best and worst memories in California, Truex Jr. responded, “my favorite is the win here. Least favorite is the traffic.”
However, Truex Jr. has spent enough time at Auto Club Speedway and endured enough disappointment here to learn that studying and navigating the traffic was actually part of discovering the path to victory on the two-mile oval.
One could say Truex Jr.’s Auto Club Speedway breakthrough has been a few years in the making. He has placed in the top 10 in three of the last four Auto Club 400s. He finished fourth in 2017, which was his best finish at the track until he pulled into Victory Lane last year.
Truex didn’t just win the Auto Club 400 last year. He dominated the race weekend in winning his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race of 2018. He became the first driver to win the pole position and all three stages in a MENCS race. He led 125 of the 200 laps, including the final 31 laps, and won the Auto Club 400 by a whopping 11.685 seconds.
“I kind of like the old tracks. You get to race five-wide,” Truex Jr. said. “It’s basically being in like the (Interstate) 10 traffic jam I was in yesterday. I feel like we’re always going four- and five-wide on restarts. As a team, we’re getting closer and closer to figuring it out; just what it take here to be fast. It’s a big deal to win here.”
Truex Jr. will attempt to join Johnson (2009-10) and Kyle Busch (2013-14) as the third driver to win back-to-back MENCS races in Sunday’s Auto Club 400.