Lacking a few liters of fuel made Johnny Sauter scramble for a seventh-place finish in his No. 98 Nextant Aerospace / Curb Records Toyota Tundra Friday night in the 18th annual WinStar World Casino & Resort 400 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Sauter had a Tundra that was the equal to or better than any of the other 26 trucks in Texas — including race-winning ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton’s — but in the end racing consequences underscored by track position dictated the outcome.
“Not the way we wanted to end up and not what we expected out of our Nextant Curb Toyota,” Sauter said. “The way our Tundra worked back in traffic was almost predictable and there’s not much you can do about it.
“As good as we were all weekend, you always want more so we’ll look forward to making something happen next weekend.”
Sauter had plenty of reason to be disappointed. In Thursday afternoon’s opening practice — in severe mid-day Texas heat — ThorSport’s trio of Tundras showed plenty of speed. Sauter, the event’s defending pole winner, was fastest, defending Series drivers’ champion Matt Crafton was third in his No. 88 Slim Jim / Menards Tundra and Jeb Burton was fourth in his No. 13 Estes Toyota.
In the evening practice, concentrating more on race runs, Crafton took the team lead and, after running 27 laps was third on the time sheet, one spot ahead of Sauter, who ran 34 laps but was happy with his Tundra’s attitude. Burton ran the fewest laps of the three team Tundras, 24, and was in 13th spot.
That led to Friday’s three-stage Keystone Light Pole Qualifying session, and the third time the Truck Series has run group-style elimination qualifying was the wildest of the season. If qualifying was a single-truck affair, as it was a year ago, there’s a good chance Sauter would have defended his pole.
The first 25-minute phase was almost an after-thought as, with a short field of only 27 trucks there was virtually no chance of the ThorSport Tundras being eliminated. But in both the second, 10-minute phase and the final five-minute burst, virtually the entire fields of trucks sat on pit road until literally the last minute of qualifying before they burst onto the fast, bumpy 1.5-mile oval to post times.
The 180-plus mph chess game eliminated drivers such as the championship leader coming to Texas, Timothy Peters, from the pole round, but not the ThorSport trio. Burton, for one, predicted the penultimate round’s final scramble as “crazy” — and it was — but no one’s trucks were damaged.
Track position was critical in the final spurt and when the last truck had crossed the line, Crafton would line up second on the grid, Sauter fourth and Burton — who had the misfortune of lining up first to go out and who was unable to get into a better position on his “out” lap — slotted into 11th.
The race, which had only four cautions in 167 laps, was almost anti-climactic, with track position dictating much of what happened. Sauter’s Tundra raced in the top-five for more than 30 laps before it dropped back into the mid-teens after the first round of pit stops, for about 20 more laps.
But Sauter’s crew helped him back up into the top-10 on the next round of stops and, with 97 laps left — more than half the race and plenty of time to make something happen — Sauter was seventh. He amplified that by moving to second to Crafton, where he sat with seven laps left.
But with the way the race and its pit stops sequenced, teams had to make tough choices on whether to pit or remain on the racetrack. Crafton, as the leader, could dictate his pace and save fuel. That enabled him to make a 61-lap run on his last tank of gas and he won the race.
Sauter, along with Burton, had to make a stop in the race’s last seven laps and it knocked Sauter from second to seventh and Burton from eighth to 12th.
Both Crafton and Sauter, who came to Texas tied for second in points behind Peters, leapfrogged the erstwhile leader in the standings when Peters was eliminated in an accident caused when his Red Horse Racing teammate German Quiroga’s Tundra’s engine expired.
Sauter is now solely in second, 11 points behind Crafton and 12 clear of third-place Ron Hornaday. Peters fell to fifth, behind Ryan Blaney.
Next weekend Sauter and the Series goes to Gateway Motorsports Park, a 1.25-mile oval outside St. Louis near Madison, Ill., that the Truck Series last raced on in 2010. Sauter should be fired-up because in two Gateway Truck starts his average start is fourth and his average finish, 2.5.
ABOUT NEXTANT AEROSPACE:
Nextant Aerospace is recognized as the first company in the world to introduce aircraft remanufacturing to the business jet market. The Nextant 400XTi is a completely-rebuilt Beechjet 400A/XP with Williams FJ44-3AP engines and the Rockwell Collins Pro Line 21™ integrated avionics suite. The new aircraft also has major aerodynamic enhancements and an improved engine mounting configuration with redesigned nacelles and pylons. The 400XTi is delivered with a two-year full-aircraft warranty and after-sales support provided by a global network of owned and authorized service centers. Founded in 2007, Nextant is based in Cleveland, Ohio. Nextant is a Directional Aviation Capital company. For more information, please visit, like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @NextantAero or join us on LinkedIn.
ABOUT CURB RECORDS:
Curb Records is one of the world’s leading independent music companies. Owned and operated by Mike Curb since 1962, Curb Records has achieved 375 Billboard number one records, nearly 1,200 Billboard Top Ten records and charted just under 4,000 Billboard records. Today’s roster includes some of the top names in Country, Christian and Pop/Rock music. Curb Records was honored as Billboard Magazine’s 2001 Country Music Label of the Year and Radio & Records Magazine’s 2005 Overall Gold Label of the Year. For more information visit www.curb.com.
ABOUT THORSPORT RACING:
ThorSport Racing, based in a state-of-the-art 100,000-square-foot facility in Sandusky, Ohio, is the longest-tenured NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team. ThorSport, which has run in the Truck Series since 1996, in 2014 will run the No. 88 Menards Toyota Tundra driven by 2013 drivers’ champion Matt Crafton, the No. 98 Nextant Aerospace/Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff/Carolina Nut Co./Curb Records Toyota Tundra driven by Johnny Sauter and the No. 13 Carolina Nut Co. Toyota Tundra driven by Jeb Burton in the Truck Series and the No. 13 Toyota Camry in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards.