A persistent Johnny Sauter used an opportunistic outside move on the final restart of the Lucas Oil 200 at Dover International Speedway to score a timely seventh-place finish in Friday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event.
Sauter, whose No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota was alternately loose and tight throughout the 200-mile race, started 10th and actually restarted in that position with only four laps to go after Sauter clawed his way back toward the front.
The best aspect of Sauter’s game effort was he gained back two of the positions he lost in the championship after he was wrecked by James Buescher at Charlotte. But even though Sauter jumped from sixth to fourth, with his ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton finishing second behind Kyle Busch at Dover, Sauter actually lost ground to Crafton.
Going to the season’s seventh race, the WinStar World Casino 400K at Texas Motor Speedway this Friday evening, Sauter is now 43 points behind the driver of the Goof Off / Menards Toyota.
The most positive aspect of that deficit is that Sauter won both Texas Truck Series races in 2012 so, even though he’ll be without regular crew chief Joe Shear for the third race of Shear’s four-race suspension for a technical violation at Kansas in April, Sauter still has plenty of reason to be optimistic.
What occurred the better part of Dover’s two-day weekend isn’t one of those reasons.
On Thursday’s practice day Sauter, was 10th in the first practice, with his fourth of 10 laps in 24.025 seconds, 149.844 mph. Sauter’s best lap of the 13 he turned in Happy Hour was also his last, in 24.109 seconds / 149.322 mph, that was good for 19th in that practice.
Overall on the day, Sauter’s best lap was 18th-fastest, but like Crafton he also made a major improvement in Friday morning’s qualifying session, to line up 10th for Friday afternoon’s race — his fifth top-10 start in as many career Dover races, but still his worst in those five tries.
For the most part the race was a continuation of the frustration that co-crew chiefs Jesse Saunders and Dan LeMasters had experienced Thursday, although Sauter did get up as high as third, under a caution at lap 50. The crew made major adjustments on a lap 68 pit stop, but Sauter still went a lap down shortly after halfway.
He managed to hang on in the top 20, ultimately raced into position to get a free pass back onto the lead lap under caution, which ultimately put him in position to take advantage of three of his competitors on the final restart.