FONTANA, Calif. – -- No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. finished 21st in Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway. The Michael Waltrip Racing driver started 26th and shot into the five just 30 laps into the 200-lap event. Truex earned a bonus point for leading on lap 62. But shortly after the halfway mark, the handling of the No. 56 NAPA Toyota went drastically away and never gained the neutral balance the team experienced in the early stages. Truex is now 13th in the driver standings -- 10 points out of the top 10 and 40 markers out of the lead.
"The NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota had another strong showing in the first part of the race," said Truex. "We were strong and it was just between us and Kyle Busch. For some reason, our car's balance changes around halfway and we can't seem to find what it needs in the backend of the race. It's tough. Today we saw so much potential, but in the end, it just didn't work out for us."
It took just 21 laps for the NAPA driver to race into the top 10. FOX Network recognized Truex as being the biggest mover of the race after starting 26th. The first chance to pit happened under green on lap 33. The NAPA Know How crew made a small air pressure change to tighten up the Toyota under green-flag conditions. The change helped Truex climb into fourth place by lap 47.
By lap 50, the NAPA Toyota closed in on the leader Kyle Busch. On lap 67, Truex took the top spot to earn a bonus point when the No. 18 pitted. Truex then followed suit by pitting one lap later for four fresh tires and fuel. He returned to the track in second position.
Two more pits stops happened rather quickly on laps 68 and 76. Both times, four tires and fuel completed the services. The NAPA driver raced comfortably in the top 10 as his car started to handle loose off the corners. The chance to adjust the car happened under a debris caution on lap 104. Air pressure, four tires and fuel made up the stop. Truex maintained seventh place. The race returned to green on lap 107.
Starting on the inside line proved to be a disadvantage for the No. 56 Toyota as it lost 10 spots on the restart. Truex remained focused and started to pick off spots shortly thereafter to run in 14th. He spent most of this segment going door-to-door with Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Crew chief Pat Tryson called his driver onto pit road on lap 138 under green. The service included air, four tires and fuel to help loosen up the NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota. Unfortunately, the car remained loose so Tryson implemented another plan. This time it included the addition of wedge. The stop happened on lap 168.
Then three laps later, Bobby Labonte had a tire cut down to bring out the caution on lap 185. The yellow enabled Tryson to take another stab at the No. 56's handling as it had not improved. Most of the cars around Truex took two tires, so the NAPA team opted to take four tires in hopes of having an advantage. When the race resumed on lap 191, the NAPA Toyota was 24th and quickly drove up to 15th. Unfortunately, Truex lost his momentum after being blocked. It caused him to lose positions in the end to finish 21st.
Kevin Harvick passed Jimmie Johnson on the final lap to score the victory. Rounding out the top-10 was Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards, Clint Bowyer, Brian Vickers, Kasey Kahne and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Next Sunday the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competes at the short track Martinsville Speedway in Virginia.