Johnny Sauter’s crew chief Dennis Connor and their No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota team would probably revolt if Sauter got his latest wish, but it’s a fact in their last two completed NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races Sauter’s come from last-to-fourth, including Sunday’s conversion in the Fan Appreciation 200 presented by New Holland at Iowa Speedway.
“We started last at Bristol and finished fourth and we started last again (Sunday) and finished fourth again,” Sauter said. “We had a long way to go to get here, but my ThorSport guys just never give up and I love them for that. We were solid in the pits and we needed that.
“We broke a sway-bar arm in qualifying and had to fix that (Sunday) morning and that sent us to the rear for the start, but I told the guys after the race that maybe this is our deal. I’m just proud of everybody at ThorSport Racing, Carolina Nut Company, Curb Records… The Triad motor was good, Goodyear tires were good — I just want to thank everybody at TRD and Toyota that supports us…”
After a devastating DNF at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park Sauter’s bunch rebounded well after their Iowa weekend seemed to be in the dumpster. The truck didn’t practice well and qualified only 25th after Connor and his men made change after change.
“We just — for whatever reason, I couldn’t get any speed (Saturday) — we struggled mightily, I guess you could say,” Sauter said. “We were just off all day, but I could run the same speed. Sometimes that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially when it’s hot and slick.”
But in the end, the change enabled by the broken part was the key. Sauter started 32nd and arrowed into 20th in the first 15 laps. Soon after, keyed by a good pit stop Sauter restarted 12th at lap 44 after the race’s first caution.
Sauter rolled into 10th at lap 78 of the originally-scheduled 200 and was a fixture in the top-10 for the rest of the race. He even had a chance to win the race. A lot of slicing and dicing, which led to four restarts in the last 22 laps, including 12 laps of “overtime” and three attempts at green-white-checkered finishes, left him in fourth at the end.
“It’s another top-five at Iowa,” Sauter said. “This is just a great racetrack for me and ThorSport. I just wish we could win here, one time. We just have solid trucks and this place just reminds me of Richmond, which is one of my favorites and statistically it’s one of my best.
“This is eight (career) races here and we’ve got seven top-fives and Matt (Crafton) had the best average finish in the series coming into this race. We both always seem to run well here so I wouldn’t care if we raced here 10 times a year.”
That’s not going to happen, as the series next races at Chicagoland Speedway on Friday, as part of a NASCAR tripleheader that kicks-off the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Sauter has plenty of positive vibes to take out of Iowa, to a 1.5-mile track — a style venue on which he also thrives.
“Our restarts were pretty solid (Sunday) and we had a good truck, but track position was everything,” Sauter said. “We just fought hard all day and had a truck that I felt like, on long runs, was one of the best trucks. We had a decent restart there at the end and we’ll take a fourth-place finish.
“Like I said, we were not where we wanted to be all weekend but I’m just proud of everybody for sticking in there and working hard. If you would have told me (Sunday) morning that we were gonna finish fourth I would’ve said ‘yeah, right…'” But it worked out.”
The most important aspect of the finish was that it put Sauter back into eighth in the standings, now just 30 points out of fifth, and 104 behind championship leader Crafton. And Sauter tipped that he might have a new favorite truck, currently outfitted in the “sea salt and pepper” peanuts’ blue-and-black colors.
“ThorSport obviously builds great trucks — everybody back at the shop and on the road crew does a great job,” Sauter said. “This is my favorite truck, now because my favorite truck got killed in Charlotte (in May). So this is my new favorite truck and we’re going to beat it out a little, polish it up and bring it to Chicago and try to run the heck out it.”