Johnny Sauter’s got a lot of tracks on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series circuit at which he’s consistently very, very good — but Pocono Raceway, site of Saturday’s Pocono Mountains 125 — hasn’t been one of them for the driver of the No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota.
“Last year we broke a driveshaft on the parade lap and spent 25 laps behind the wall, so that race was over before we ever got going,” Sauter said with a shrug. “The year before that I crashed the primary truck in qualifying, started last in the backup truck and finished fourth.
“So that worked out well for us and it proved we know what we need to do to get around that place. But honestly, the year before that (2010) I don’t even remember what happened except we finished around where we started — so unlike a lot of the places we go, Pocono’s just been one of those deals, for me.”
Sauter’s average finish at Pocono, which has held only three Truck Series races, is a maddening 15th, based in large part on his 27th-place last season. That’s actually sixth-best of the 11 drivers that have raced at Pocono three times, but that’s no consolation to Sauter, who started 12th and finished 14th in the series’ 2010 inaugural.
With its long straightaways and corners that range from the moderately-banked Turn 1, to the slightly banked “Tunnel Turn” to the virtually flat Turn 3, which leads onto the longest straightaway on any oval track at which major-league stock cars race, Pocono requires a compromise in racecar setup that emphasizes getting off the third turn to maximize top speed at the end of the frontstretch.
“I think you have to have something that’s stable through the Tunnel Turn, but I think the whole key to that racetrack is the Tunnel Turn, number one and number two is getting off Turn 3,” Sauter said. “If you don’t get off Turn 3 — if you get a little bit tight or a little bit loose — it kills your momentum down that (front) straightaway and it just kills your lap time.
“So Turn 3 is super-critical but being comfortable over the tunnel is equally important. Turn 1 is pretty simple — pretty self-explanatory. I mean, nothing’s ever simple but it’s your basic corner. Then you go down that long straightaway and you see a flat, sweeping corner — that’s the tunnel and you’re like, ‘man, I hope it sticks.’
“And then you run down to Turn 3 and you’ve got to get back to the throttle as soon as you can for that long straightaway. In that corner, whatever you have is what you have to deal with, and last year we were loose there the whole time. The year before that we had tremendous grip because we came from the back to the front, so it’s whatever you’re fighting that day.”
Sauter’s coming to the second race in his second stint this season with former truck chiefs Jesse Saunders and Dan LeMasters serving as co-crew chiefs. The team comes to Pocono fifth in the championship, but 73 points behind ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton, the championship leader.
The lone Truck Series practice of the weekend runs from 9-11:20 a.m. ET on Friday. Coors Light Pole Qualifying is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday to set the 36-truck starting lineup for the season’s 11th of 22 races.
Saturday’s 50-lap, 125-mile event will be telecast live on the SPEED Channel at 1 p.m. ET, preceded at 12:30 p.m. by The Setup pre-race show. MRN Radio’s live broadcast also begins at 12:30.
Pre-race and the race telecast are scheduled to replay on SPEED Saturday at 11 p.m. ET.