Johnny Sauter made his first start in what’s now the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series 10 years ago this week at Bristol Motor Speedway, and he’s figuring there couldn’t be a better place than Wednesday night’s 16th UNOH 200 to end a rough streak of races.
Sauter and his No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota have fallen from the top of the series’ standings to 10th — 95 points behind ThorSport teammate Matt Crafton — in the last four months.
But Sauter and his two-race-old crew chief, the three-time Truck Series champion Dennis Connor, think the turnaround can start this week.
“I’m hoping that we’re fortunate enough to have as good of a truck as we’ve had for the last two races,” Connor said. “And if that’s the case, I’m going to be as confident as I was at both Pocono and Michigan that we have a piece capable of sitting in Victory Lane at the end of the race.”
The unfortunate thing for Sauter, Connor and their teammates is that a competitive truck — while it’s a big part of the winning equation — can get wiped out in a split second by another competitor’s mistake. In three consecutive races Sauter’s experienced just that, and like the rest of his ThorSport Racing crew, he’s ready to move on.
“You can’t say enough about my guys at ThorSport, what they’ve done all season but especially these last few weeks,” Sauter said of the aftermath of Eldora in July, then Pocono and just three days ago, at Michigan. “Every week we have a nice, fast truck and yet they’re getting torn to pieces by other people’s mistakes.
“At Bristol everything happens really quick, you’ve got to be aware of who’s around you and what they’re doing. Our problem has been not having a crystal ball to see other guys’ strange moves coming.”
Sauter’s series debut, in 2003, was part of a tripleheader Bristol weekend he did while also driving in the Cup and Busch series. His truck debut was inauspicious, starting 23rd and finishing 25th. since then Sauter’s only managed an average start of 14.8 and an average finish of 13.4 in five races at “Thunder Valley.”
But he does have a second-place finish in what’s been his career Truck Series season, 2011. And while he’s yet to lead a lap at Bristol, both he and Connor think that’s another streak they can end.
“Michigan was shaping-up to be exactly what we needed and wanted it to be,” Sauter said. “We tuned on the truck in practice and it was right where we needed it to be. I have the confidence in Dennis and the guys we’ll be able to do the same thing at Bristol.”
“Bristol is just a tough, tough place to manage,” Connor said. “In a truck you’re running 15.80s (lap time, in seconds) every lap and stuff happens quickly. We just need to get our Tundra working like it needs to and I think we’ll be fine.”
Wednesday’s one-day schedule has two Truck Series practice sessions, from 10-10:50 a.m. ET and 12-1:30 p.m. The final practice will be telecast live on FOX Sports 1, the former SPEED Channel.
Coors Light Pole Qualifying to set the 36-truck starting lineup is scheduled for 4:35 p.m. and will also be live on FOX Sports 1 at 4:30.
The 200-lap, 106.6-mile UNOH 200 will be telecast live on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m., preceded at 7:30 p.m. by The Setup pre-race show. MRN Radio’s live broadcast also begins at 7:30