ThorSport Racing driver Johnny Sauter is on the cusp of creating NASCAR history Sunday at Rockingham Speedway. So setting aside the passion that Sauter brings to every second he’s practicing his craft, as he prepares to attempt to win his third consecutive NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race to begin this season — he’s just Johnny being Johnny.
And that’s a driver that’s committed, focused and living in a real world in which effort is usually rewarded with results. That’s why Sauter and his veteran crew chief, Joe Shear Jr., are basically dismissing their No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota’s wins at Daytona and Martinsville and looking only at this weekend.
And if he’s able to win, Sauter will become the first driver in any NASCAR national touring series to win the first three races of the season. Sauter’s currently tied with Mark Martin, who previously won two in 2006 in the Truck Series, Tony Stewart and Chad Little accomplished it in Nationwide and Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth did it in Cup.
Sauter finished fourth in the inaugural Carolina Education Lottery 200 at The Rock presented by Cheerwine last year and, per his pre-season prediction, knows his team can challenge again. But that’s based off what they’ll bring to the game this weekend — and so far this season that’s been stout.
“I don’t wholeheartedly believe in momentum — no,” Sauter said at Martinsville. “I believe in if everybody gives 100 percent and you do everything right, it pays off. That’s what I believe, anyways. Luck is luck and momentum is momentum — and people talk about it…
“But we just do what we do, give 100 percent and that’s all we can do.”
In recent memory that’s been plenty good, particularly in 2013. After Sauter lost the 2011 Truck Series championship to Austin Dillon by six points, 2012 was an atypically rocky stretch that in part was precipitated by a manufacturer switch. Sauter and Shear have their Toyota Tundras in full effect now.
“I have all the confidence in the world in Joe and everybody at ThorSport,” Sauter said. “When we get to the racetrack we typically unload pretty good and only make the truck better from there.”
Rockingham more than likely will provide the second consecutive week of challenging tire wear. Rockingham’s abrasive surface is legendary for creating havoc with teams’ tire strategies, but when that unexpectedly cropped up at Martinsville Sauter and his ThorSport teammate Matt Crafton dealt with it perfectly and scored the company’s third career one-two finish. If their third teammate, Todd Bodine, hadn’t been spun out by Kevin Harvick late in the race, they might’ve gone one-two-three.
“I don’t know what we learned about tires at Martinsville that we might apply this weekend, because Rockingham’s a whole different animal because of the banking and the size of the racetrack,” Sauter said. “Tire wear is tire wear but Martinsville probably got the drivers in the right frame of mind, to be conservative on tires or whatever we need to do at Rockingham.
“So yes, it helps the drivers to prepare for the mindset you have to have to conserve tires, but as far as set-ups and all that stuff goes, I don’t really think you can take anything from Martinsville to Rockingham.”
Except maybe the winning feeling that Sauter and company have had plenty of, so far in 2013.
“This is great to start the year off with two in a row and I couldn’t be prouder of everybody at ThorSport, (general manager) David Pepper, Duke and Rhonda Thorson and all the people keeping the place going,” Sauter said. “We still have 20 races left and there’s a lot that can happen.
“We just need to keep it all in focus and take it all in stride and go to Rockingham where we finished fourth a year ago and go to Kansas (next weekend) where we’ve won in the past. It’s a lot of good racetracks coming up for us — we just have to keep everybody grounded and keep everybody hungry.”
The season’s third race, on the one-mile high-banked oval in the North Carolina sand hills, gets the green flag at 2 p.m. ET Sunday. Live television begins at 1:30 p.m. with “The Set-up” pre-race show on SPEED Channel, followed by the race broadcast. MRN Radio has live coverage, also beginning at 1:30 p.m.