When Auto Club Speedway opened the gates on June 22, 1997 for its inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race, Martin Truex Jr. – one week shy of turning 17 — was racing go-karts in his home state of New Jersey.
Twenty years later the 2-mile track based in Fontana, Calif. continues with its NASCAR tradition as it celebrates its milestone anniversary during this weekend’s Auto Club 400.
While the Southern California oval has been an annual stop on the NASCAR circuit, the past 20 years have been anything but constant for the 36-year-old Truex.
Truex’s journey to the highest level of stock car racing included running go-karts and modified cars along with working on his father’s clam boats before joining Dale Earnhardt Inc. as a full-time XFINITY racer in 2004. He went on to capture two XFINITY Series championships (2004, 2005).
After NASCAR Cup stints with Dale Earnhardt Inc., Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing, Truex joined Furniture Row Racing in 2014.
Take away the first season with Furniture Row Racing, Truex and the Denver, Colo.-based team have been a force in the NASCAR Cup Series. Truex advanced to the final four of the 2015 playoffs and was also a playoff contender in 2016 as well as being a four-time race winner and the series lap leader (1,809).
Dating back to the 2016 Labor Day weekend Truex has been the winningest Cup driver with victories in four of the last 16 races, including this year’s third race of the season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He won all three stages of the Las Vegas race in his Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Boats Toyota, becoming the first driver to capture NASCAR’s trifecta.
“I am not sure if my history and Auto Club Speedway’s history are comparable, except that we’re both more respected than when we started, and appear to be getting better with age,” said Truex. “But I do know one thing for sure and that’s my growing affection for the California track. And right now I like it even more because of the bumpy and rugged surface. It makes for a ton of fun to race on, and I feel our team is well suited to have our Bass Pro Shops/TRACKER Boats Toyota adapt to the slippery and coarse track conditions.”
Though Truex has a special fondness for Auto Club Speedway, he feels his No. 78 Furniture Row Racing team hasn’t been able to show its strength in recent years at the 2-mile oval.
“We left too much on the table the past two years in California,” said Truex, who is currently fourth in points. “We went into those races feeling that we had a good shot of contending for the win. In 2015 we had high hopes after a very successful test session there. We finished eighth that year, but we were looking for more. Last year we had a decent run going, but got pushed into the wall and struggled from that point on. I think we finished 31st or 32nd (32nd). We like tracks similar to Auto Club Speedway and our plan is to qualify up front, stay there and bring it home with the checkered flag and trophy.”
TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!