Johnny Sauter battled through early handling issues and was headed toward a top-five finish in the Kroger 250 when a suspension failure brought the team to the garage for major repairs. The No. 13 Hot Honeys/Curb Records Toyota Tundra was in fourth place with less than 25 laps to go when the suspension gave out, taking Sauter out of contention for the win and resulting in a 29th-place finish. After laying down an eighth-place qualifying lap, Sauter took the green flag and progressed into the top five by the time the first caution of the day waved on lap 22. Sauter relayed to crew chief Joe Shear Jr. that the truck was lacking rear side bite and that he needed a major chassis adjustment.
Race strategy indicated that it was too early in the race to pit, so Sauter opted to remain on the racetrack, but a long green-flag run meant that he would have to hold onto his ill-handling machine until the next yellow flag came on lap 76. Despite the poor handling, Sauter remained in the top-five and was running lap times equivalent to the leaders when the opportunity came to pit under yellow. Bringing the No. 13 to pit road, Shear Jr. called for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment, and Sauter remained in the top five when green-flag racing resumed.
However, Sauter still was unhappy with the truck, emphasizing how hard he had to work to maintain his track position. Sauter slipped as low as eighth in the next 150 laps, but his short-track expertise and aggressive driving style allowed him to elbow his way back to fourth in spite of the fact that the handling on the No. 13 was not quite to his liking. When the field went under caution on lap 228, Sauter and the No. 13 crew felt that their track position and the inexperience of the competitors around him could work in their favor and still result in a victory.
Unfortunately, while under caution, Sauter felt what he initially thought was a blown left front tire, but as he continued around the track to make his way to pit road, he realized that it felt more like the suspension had given way. A quick assessment on pit road confirmed his suspicion, and the No. 13 Hot Honeys/Curb Records machine was pushed to the garage. The ThorSport Racing team worked quickly, but the repair was extensive and Sauter went down 19 laps in the process. The crew completed the fix in time for Sauter to return to the racetrack and complete the final laps of the race, but he was scored in the 29th position when the checkered flag waved. “This was a big disappointment the No. 13 team,” said Sauter following the race.
“The truck wasn’t as good as I would have liked it to be for much of the race, but as we were getting toward the end, I really thought we could still win it. This certainly isn’t the way we wanted to start our season. The points deficit we’re in isn’t completely insurmountable, but it’s going to take some wins and a lot of really strong finishes to dig our way out and get us where we want to be. I know that this team is capable of that, but we’ve got our work cut out for us.” The trucks return to action in two weeks when the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series heads to Rockingham Speedway on April 15th.