USA TODAY Sports sat down with 2017 NASCAR Cup Series champion Martin Truex Jr. to discuss his emotions after winning the title.

FONTANA, Calif. – Five takeaways from Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway as teams prepare for Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and the first short-track race of the season this weekend:

TRUEX  WAS GONE: Martin Truex Jr. returned to 2017 form in winning Sunday’s race in blockbuster fashion, leading 125 of 200 laps and rolling to the checkered flag 11.6 seconds in front of Kyle Larson.

How good was that? “We couldn’t even see Martin,” Larson said from second place.

That’s good.

HARVICK’S ‘DUMB MISTAKE’:  Kevin Harvick admitted that he made a “dumb mistake” challenging Kyle Larson for position on the backstretch early in the race.

When Harvick tried to side-draft off Larson’s car, they bumped, and the impact sent Harvick into the outside wall. He finished the race but was nine laps down, a far cry from the previous three weeks, when his car was in victory lane each time.

“The race car was there; it was just a mistake,” Harvick said.

Much of the post-race discussion centered on whether Harvick’s car was strong enough to challenge Truex at the front if the early-race incident hadn’t crippled the Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

“He had his issues,” Truex said. “We’ll never know. I’m sure we’ll have plenty chances to race each other throughout the rest of the season.”

JOHNSON CLIMBING: Jimmie Johnson continues his journey in from the cold.

Johnson had a steady Sunday and finished ninth, his first top-10 run of the year (in fact, his first since last October).

“Each week we have been getting a little bit better,” Johnson said. “We are definitely not happy with where we are right now, but we are seeing the improvements. We have been seeing it internally.  We are making the cars drive better and better, and we are getting more competitive.”

TOYOTA GETS FIRST: Martin Truex Jr.’s Sunday victory put Toyota on the win board for the first time this season.

Ford has won three races (all by Harvick), and Chevrolet won the Daytona 500 with Austin Dillon.

Toyota’s Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch own the first two spots in the point standings, but Fords sit in six of the top-10 positions. Larson, in seventh, is the only Chevrolet driver in the top 10 in points.

GO EAST, YOUNG MEN: After three weeks of NASCAR’s West Coast Swing, the Cup tour continent-hops this week to land at Martinsville Speedway in south central Virginia for Sunday’s STP 500.

The 500-lap race will be the Cup Series’ first short-track event of the year, an event the teams generally welcome after dealing with the aerodynamic issues that faster tracks cause.

Martinsville is all about strong cars, smart drivers, bumping and banging and brakes that last the distance.


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