Johnny Sauter’s hoping his recent record on the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ longest racetracks in his No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota results in a 2013 superspeedway sweep in Saturday’s Fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
Sauter opened the season with a stunning victory at Daytona International Speedway — shocking largely because Sauter had been in position to win numerous superspeedway races in the recent past only to have “something” happen.
“If you look at it we were in position to win Daytona in 2012 and we got wrecked with a little more than a lap to go,” Sauter said. “Last year we were in a position to win Talladega, the caution came out and we ended up second (to Parker Kligerman) and this year we won Daytona.
“So I think if anyone looks over the history of the last three or four (speedway) races, we’ve done pretty danged well with them — we’ve had great ThorSport Tundras.”
But the same thing that gives Sauter optimism makes him shrug, too.
“Quite frankly, for lack of a better way to put it, on these big tracks you’re either lucky or you’re not,” Sauter said. “For whatever reason we’ve had a lot of good runs on the speedways and actually had (Talladega) set up to where we were gonna win it (in 2012) — and then the caution came out about a half a lap too early.
“So that’s kind of what I’m talking about.”
In four Talladega Truck Series starts, Sauter led his only three laps last year, but in those four races he does have two top-three finishes, four lead-lap finishes and an average finish of 8.5. But with the exception of this year at Daytona, where a caution flag also ended that race on its final lap, Sauter’s never prevailed, even though the anticipation just makes him chuckle.
“It’s one of those places where you just have to be patient,” Sauter said. “Somebody else’s mistake can end your day early so you just have to try to put yourself in a position — I guess, essentially, you have to go to school for the first 50 laps and try to learn where your truck is and isn’t strong.
“Then, you have to try to put yourself in a position where you can take advantage of where it was strong by trying to work with whoever you learned was strong enough to help you — or to help each other — in those last 10 or 15 laps.”
Talladega only has two hours of practice before the race, but Sauter feels like that’s largely irrelevant anyway due to the nail-biting tendencies of speedway racing.
“Nowadays nobody is brave enough to go out and draft in practice like you’re going to be forced to do in the race,” Sauter said. “You’ll get six to eight trucks to go out and draft but you won’t get anywhere near the full field — and that really does make a difference in what you can find out.”
Sauter said his team’s plan will be to “spend zero energy on qualifying — we never do at these big tracks because it just doesn’t matter. You can qualify 30th and be fifth after four laps.”
In fact, Sauter went to the rear of the field for the initial green flag at Daytona for adjusting his truck after qualifying and that made little difference in the final result.
“So I think we’ll just go down there and run a few laps and make sure nothing’s leaking or rubbing or dragging,” Sauter said. “And then you wait to go and get it done in the race. That’s it, as far as I’m concerned.”
The only other thing he’ll have to do is work on who’ll he’ll be able to partner with and who might help him win on Saturday — and Sauter said that’s a time-consuming process he’s willing to endure to get another victory.
“You have to talk to a few guys in the garage to get a feel for who will work with you, but the bigger thing is you have to earn those relationships as the race develops,” Sauter said. “I think it’s one of those deals where you’re able to make some moves early in the race with some guys and you feel comfortable working with them, whether it’s being the pusher or getting pushed.
“Whoever you feel like you can make speed with is ultimately who you try to connect with at the end of the race. I think a lot of it is about respect and I think a lot of guys respect the way that we’ve raced on the superspeedways. But in the end it’s a myriad of different reasons why we draft with who we draft with.”
Sauter knows he’s gathered enough experience to earn his third win this season, to go with checkered flags earned at Daytona and Martinsville, the series’ shortest oval. But he also knows that might not be enough.
“So much of it is determined by circumstances,” Sauter said. “You can make deals with everybody, but when push comes to shove and there are 10 laps to go, your dancing partners are whoever’s in front of you and whoever’s behind you.
“That’s just the way it is because plans only last for so long.”
Sauter still has his sights set on reaching the top-five in the Truck Series’ standings. His ThorSport teammate, Matt Crafton, has led the points for the last 13 races and he’s 103 ahead of Sauter — but Sauter is only 26 points out of fifth and that’s his primary goal in the final five-race stretch of the season.
Sauter will make the 126th Truck Series start of his career, in which he has a better than 50-percent level of top-10 finishes, with 66; when he takes the green flag Saturday afternoon in a race that’s being held in conjunction with Sunday’s sixth round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
On Friday there is a single Truck Series practice session, from 10:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. ET, which will be telecast live on FOX Sports 1, the former SPEED Channel. Coors Light Pole Qualifying to set the starting lineup is scheduled at 5:10 PM, with coverage on FOX Sports 2 beginning at 5.
Saturday’s 94-lap, 250-mile Fred’s 250 Powered by Coca-Cola will be telecast live on FOX Sports 1 at 4 p.m. ET, preceded at 3:30 by The Setup pre-race show. The live broadcast on MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio also begins at 3:30. Live timing & scoring for the weekend’s events will be at www.nascar.com