Johnny Sauter’s got enough road-racing experience in NASCAR’s national series to give him a lot of enthusiasm for Sunday’s first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series road race in 13 years, the Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, Canada.
“I love road racing,” the driver of the No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota said after his last Truck Series race, at Bristol. “Even though I’ve only been able to do it three or four times, and it’s been six or seven years since the last one, it’s something that I thought I did OK at, so needless to say I think it’s something that we can go up there and capitalize on it.”
In fact, Sauter’s actually competed in six NASCAR national series road-course races, two in the Cup Series and four more in the former Busch Series. Sauter started third and finished a career-best sixth in his third career road-course event, the 2006 Busch Series race in Mexico City.
Even more significantly, Sauter scored lead-lap finishes in five of his six starts, including both his Cup Series races, in his most recent road-course starts, in 2007 for HAAS CNC Racing, the forerunner of Stewart-Haas Racing. The only race Sauter didn’t finish on the lead lap was the 2005 Watkins Glen Busch race, where his Phoenix Racing Chevrolet’s engine broke.
In all, Sauter’s raced at three different road courses: Mexico City, Watkins Glen and Sonoma. But more than anything, Sauter hopes a full-day test session earlier this month in a NASCAR Canadian Tire Series stock car at the former Mosport Park circuit that he did with his ThorSport Racing teammate, Truck Series point leader Matt Crafton, will pay dividends.
“Hopefully we’ll have a good enough truck that we can go up there and do a good job,” Sauter said of the new road-course Toyota Tundra his team recently finished. “Hopefully we’ll have a shot at racing for the win.
“I think we’ll be able to race there. It’s going to be fast and qualifying will be important because track position will be important and pit strategy will be important as well — no different than any other racetrack that we go to. But I think the guys with a little bit of road-racing experience might have a little bit of the upper hand.”
The biggest ace up Sauter’s sleeve might be his three-race-old crew chief, the three-time Truck Series champion Dennis Connor. Connor bagged a top-five finish in the Truck Series’ last road race, at Watkins Glen in 2000 with three-time series champion Jack Sprague.
In fact, in 16 road-course races over six years, Connor guided his drivers to 11 top-five finishes and 13 top 10s — including top-five finishes at all four road courses he raced at with a truck. Connor also recorded a top-10 finish as a Cup Series crew chief with Ken Schrader at Watkins Glen.
“Some of these guys weren’t even out of diapers, the last road race we ran with the trucks,” Connor said, chuckling. “I think it’s an extremely good opportunity for the 98 crew to excel because of how basically strong they are, coupled with the experience I have on the road courses we raced previously with the trucks.
“I kind of know how the trucks work on a road course, how you call the races and Johnny definitely knows how to drive ’em. If we can just go up there with a good truck — which we’ve had everywhere we’ve been so far, thanks to the guys on this team — we can finish turning this thing around, completely.”
Connor joined the team three races ago, at Pocono and after being victimized by erratically-driving opponents at Pocono and Michigan the team finally got a fourth-place finish at Bristol, which propelled them to ninth in the championship, only 17 points out of the top five in the standings, while they’re 89 points behind Crafton.
Sauter hopes his test will give him a little bit of a leg up on his competitors, especially given the unforgiving nature of the track owned by part-time NASCAR driver and Canadian legend Ron Fellows, a multiple Truck Series road-race winner.
“The most eye-opening aspect of the track was just how fast it is,” said Sauter, who this season has already won on one of the series’ fastest (Daytona) and slowest (Martinsville) tracks. “It’s an extremely fast racetrack, which is cool and I like that. You leave Turn 5b and you’re grabbing gears and you’re in fourth gear going over elevation changes and it takes your breath away.
“You come up to a hard right-hand corner at the end of it all and you can’t see where you’re going when you get there. So you’ve got to trust your spotters and just trust everything.”
Ron Hornaday and David Starr are the only current Truck Series drivers that have road-raced a NCWTS truck, so the weekend has plenty of track time. On Friday, two Truck Series practice sessions are scheduled, from 11:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m. ET, and again from 2:30-5 p.m.
Two more hours of Truck Series practice are scheduled Saturday, from 9:30-10:30 a.m. and 12-1 p.m. Coors Light Pole Qualifying to set the starting lineup is scheduled for 5:05 p.m.
The 64-lap, 157.37-mile Chevrolet Silverado 250 will be telecast live on FOX Sports 1 at 1:30 p.m., preceded at 1 p.m. by The Setup pre-race show. MRN Radio’s live broadcast begins at 1:30.