Johnny Sauter remained confident about the rest of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season following Saturday’s Pocono Mountains 125 despite the dismay, disgust and confusion his team was feeling at Pocono Raceway.
For the second consecutive race — and third in his last seven outings — Sauter’s No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota was wrecked by another competitor, which at Pocono resulted in a 19th-place finish.
“We’ve got better bullets coming,” Sauter said of the trucks under construction at ThorSport Racing’s shop in Sandusky, Ohio. “So I ain’t worried about it.”
A crazy end game in Pocono’s fourth annual Truck Series event, which included a mid-race green-flag pit cycle and then three cautions in the race’s final 10 laps — including two that produced green-white-checker finish attempts — seemed to be working in Sauter’s favor.
Despite battling a loose truck throughout the race he’d worked his way into a top-10 position.
That had the Wisconsin native smiling in his driver’s seat as Pocono hadn’t been one of his better venues, with only a fourth-place finish from a tail-end start in 2011 as a positive check in his ledger. But the race’s “overtime” was unkind to Sauter and company.
“We had characteristics that we didn’t have in practice — the truck was really loose for Johnny and that threw us for a loop for a little bit,” co-crew chief Jesse Saunders said. “We really don’t know where that came from, but we adjusted on it and made it a little better. I don’t think we had it as good as it needed to be to win, but I thought a top-five definitely wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.
“But again, we’ve got nothing to show for it because of other people’s mistakes.”
The first attempt at a green-white-checker led to former ThorSport teammate Todd Bodine, who was leading the race, making contact with James Buescher and spinning in Turn 1. The following green-white-checker attempt had Sauter eighth and his championship-leading ThorSport teammate Matt Crafton right behind him in ninth.
The field took the green and circled around to the Tunnel Turn behind leader and eventual winner Ryan Blaney. Then, for the second consecutive event, counting an Eldora Speedway qualifying race, Sauter got stuffed in the wall by the same competitor.
“It was pretty clear what happened,” Sauter said on pit road immediately following the race. “I think Ty Dillon needs to get a new spotter. I guess he said he didn’t know I was there and just drove across the front end and wrecked both of us.”
Sauter and Dillon immediately drove back to pit road side-by-side after the caution flew and, after making repairs Sauter restarted 21st for the final time. He ended up passing Dillon in the final two-lap run, but that was no consolation.
“We were loose all day with our Carolina Nut / Curb Records Toyota,” Sauter said. “But I’m just proud of these guys. We’ve just had horrible luck lately — we’re just wrecking trucks for no reason and it’s unfortunate.
“I hate it for my guys more than anybody — they work way too damn hard for this. It’s just disappointing.”
The finish was particularly disgusting to Sauter’s bunch because they came into the race tied for fifth in the championship, albeit 72 points behind leader Crafton. Sauter left Pocono unofficially 10th in the championship but now 84 points out of the lead.
“We were doing what we needed to do,” Sauter said in the garage, about half an hour after the race. “We didn’t have the best-handling truck but we were gonna have a solid finish and we just got wrecked.
“I’m proud of the guys because they worked hard all weekend — like they always do. It wasn’t a great run but I’ve never been that great here so I was going to be happy just to get out of here in one piece and get a top-10 finish.”
And then came one apparent bad call by a spotter and a bad decision by a young driver.
Sauter’s next race, Aug. 17 at Michigan International Speedway, already has him anticipating turning his season — which began with two consecutive wins and four consecutive top-five finishes — back in the right direction. Sauter’s worst finish in races where he hasn’t been wrecked is 12th.