Wild wreck ends Sauter's promising Kansas effort

Wild wreck ends Sauter's promising Kansas effort Ronda Greer
A grinding mid-race wreck in Friday night's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series' SFP 250 at Kansas Speedway prevented Johnny Sauter from taking sole position of the series lead that he came to the Midwest tied for with his No. 98 Nextant Aerospace / Curb Records Toyota Tundra.

Crew chief Dennis Connor and his men made a dogged attempt to repair Sauter's mangled Tundra, which went to the garage area on the leader's 87th lap. But the damage and race-time remaining to fix it forced the team to withdraw, relegating Sauter to 21st at the finish.

"Thanks to the guys," Sauter said after a long stretch sitting in his Tundra's cockpit as work swirled around him. "They never quit hammering on this Nextant/Curb Tundra, but we just ran out of time."

It was a massively disappointing outcome for a weekend that had started so positively. In two practice sessions Sauter and Connor concentrated on race runs rather than sheer speed in the draft. Toyota's timing system showed Sauter's Tundra was one of the most consistently fast trucks based on average lap times. 

Sauter's was the best of three ThorSport Racing Toyotas earlier Friday afternoon in the season's first "knockout" qualifying session after scheduled sessions at Daytona and Martinsville were rained-out. Sauter lined-up third in the 31-truck field as a result.

As the 167-lap race opened Sauter never fell below seventh in the running order, including the first pit stop of the night. But on the second stop, Sauter immediately felt a loose lug nut and had to return to pit road to correct it under the race's seventh caution, at lap 78.

That knocked him back to 15th for the subsequent restart and when front-runner Ryan Blaney spun in Turn 2 and came to a stop sideways in the groove, a melee broke out behind the spin.

"Our Tundra was the best it had been all night, at that point," Sauter said. "But that's what happens when you don't tighten your lug nuts -- you're back there running where you don't need to be and don't want to be.

"I don't really know what happened (in the accident with Blaney). We were three-wide, and I think another truck ran into me in the back and sent me from the bottom of the racetrack to the top. When I got there Ryan was sideways and stopped and there just wasn't enough room between him and the wall."

Connor's assessment was even blunter. 
    
"That was self-inflicted and you just can't have that," Connor said. "But I'm proud of the way the team rebounded and tried to fix our Tundra -- as well as how well they worked to get to that point in the race."

A year ago Sauter came to Kansas in sole possession of the series lead but after a fourth-place finish behind race-winning ThorSport teammate Matt Crafton a rough stretch of the season ensued that knocked Sauter out of championship contention.

Connor rejoined ThorSport as Sauter's crew chief and they engineered a seven-race top-10 finishing string -- including Sauter's third win of the season -- that got them back into fourth in the championship by season's end.

After Friday night's setback Sauter fell to fifth in the championship, 15 points behind series leader Matt Crafton, who for the second consecutive season took the points lead after Kansas. 

On the positive side the Truck Series' next race is on May 16, a second consecutive night race, on the similar 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway. The team tested there several weeks ago but that truck was wiped-out Friday night.
 
Thorsport PR
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Steven B. Wilson

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