Johnny Sauter’s ThorSport Racing team showed a true champion’s resilience this weekend at Kansas Speedway as, despite having no qualifying or drafting practice on one of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ fastest racetracks, Sauter qualified and finished in the top five.
Sauter’s fifth-place finish Saturday in the SFP 250 in his No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota, behind race-winning teammate Matt Crafton’s No. 88 Ideal Door / Menards Tundra, put ThorSport into a one-two position in the championship for the first time in the organization’s 18-year history — with Sauter currently 12 points clear of Crafton.
The likelihood of Sauter contending looked bleak when he missed a shift leaving pit road on his sixth lap in Happy Hour Friday, over-revving the engine and breaking a valve spring. The breakage necessitated an engine change and on account of that, Sauter’s first lap on the racetrack with the new Triad Engine Technologies powerplant was in qualifying — less than three hours before the green flag.
“We struggled all day and it’s probably a product of not getting any practice when I missed that shift,” Sauter said after persevering into fifth — despite falling a lap down when a caution flew during a green-flag pit cycle just before halfway. “Getting a top-five finish at the end of it all is a real credit to ThorSport and my guys — we’ll take it.”
As qualifying opened on a sunny, but crisp morning that outcome didn’t look likely. But Sauter’s lap as the 32nd of 36 trucks on the racetrack established a track record and momentarily put Sauter on the pole. After James Buescher took the pole as the last truck out, Sauter lined up fourth.
Through the early stages of the race, Sauter battled a loose truck and, although he said he was having a hard time in traffic, was repeatedly able to drive toward the front.
“We just had a mechanical problem and I was loose just by myself,” Sauter said. “When there’s only one-and-a-half grooves and the trucks are wider than that then it can get hairy. It takes a lot of give-and-take and there wasn’t a lot of that (Saturday).”
With 11 cautions during the race, Sauter both dodged a few close calls and was involved in one when another competitor changed lanes and hit Sauter, much like what had occurred in his winning effort at Martinsville.
During the pit cycle midway through the race, which initially left both Sauter and Crafton a lap down until they were able to take a “wave-around” before a restart to get back on the lead lap, crew chief Joe Shear Jr. continued to make adjustments until he made his final critical adjustments on their last stop, with 59 laps remaining.
On that restart Crafton was 11th and Sauter, 12th. They both were able to move forward — particularly Crafton, who capped a great restart at lap 137, which prompted Sauter to say on his in-truck radio, “helluva restart by Crafton — how was he able to do that?” by making a stunning third-to-first move to take the lead one lap later.
On the final restart, with 25 laps left, Crafton was leading and Sauter was fifth, which he maintained to the finish to ensure he’d remain in the championship lead.
The series is off until round five, at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday, May 17 as part of the Sprint All-Star Race weekend. Sauter has won five of his eight Truck Series victories on 1.5-mile racetracks, such as Charlotte is.