Johnny Sauter overcame handling issues and a pit road miscue to score a top-five finish in the inaugural race at Rockingham Speedway. After several adjustments and a fueling issue late in the race, Sauter fought his way to the front of the pack to finish fourth at “The Rock,” shooting up 14 spots in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver points. Sauter took the green flag from the 10th position, but quickly leapt into the eighth spot before the first caution flag of the day waved on lap five. With pit strategy dictating that it was too early to visit pit road, Sauter remained on the track in eighth for a wild restart on lap nine. By lap 21, Sauter worked his way up to sixth, but he relayed to his crew that the No. 13 Hot Honeys Toyota Tundra was too free. Despite the loose condition, Sauter broke into the top-five on lap 30, but he slipped back to sixth just before the yellow flag waved on lap 61. Sauter brought his No. 13 to pit road for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment to tighten up the handling, and returned to the track in seventh as green-flag racing resumed.
While teammate Matt Crafton led the field, Sauter rocketed back into the top-five, running the fastest lap of the race on lap 85. Sauter took over the fourth spot as the race reached halfway on lap 100, and maintained his position until the caution flag waved once again on lap 122 for a two-truck incident. Sauter entered the pits with a tight race truck after the adjustments on his first stop, so the team serviced the No. 13 with four tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment to loosen it slightly. Sauter was the third truck to exit pit road, but the team was unable to get enough Sunoco gas into the truck for a full fuel run. Forced to return to pit road for a second pit stop, Sauter was the last truck on the lead lap when the field went green on lap 131.
The miscue couldn’t stop the Hot Honeys machine, however, and Sauter shot to the eighth spot within 10 laps. With 35 laps to go, Sauter earned seventh place, and with 25 laps remaining, the field saw the final yellow flag of the day. He returned to pit road for four tires and fuel, and the No. 13 took the green flag from sixth on lap 181. Sauter moved quickly into the fourth position, where he remained until the checkered flag waved.
“We got a top-five finish, and made a big dent in our points deficit. We chased the race track for a lot of the day, but all in all, our Hot Honeys Toyota was good. I thought we were in position to have a run for them towards the end there. Our truck would really, really fire off fast, and then after about five or six laps, it would just start to go away. We had a mishap on pit road, but we rebounded and got a top-five. I can’t complain about that, considering the way our season started.” Sauter is now 13th in the point standings, up 14 spots from his 27th-place standings after Martinsville.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series returns to action next weekend at Kansas Speedway for the SFP 250 on Saturday, April 21st.