Sauter seeking hometown rebound at Charlotte

Sauter seeking hometown rebound at Charlotte Getty Images

Johnny Sauter's lack of outright success at Charlotte Motor Speedway, site of Friday night's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Carolina Education Lottery 200, is no deterrent to him believing he has a pretty good chance of a top-five finish -- if not his 10th trip to Victory Lane after a truck race -- with his No. 98 Nextant Aerospace / Curb Records Toyota Tundra.

 

Five of Sauter's nine career Truck Series victories have come on 1.5-mile speedways -- including his inaugural win for the Sandusky-based team in 2009 at Las Vegas and a sweep at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, both tracks operated by Charlotte's parent company, Speedway Motorsports Inc.

Sauter's actual record in five career Charlotte starts isn't stellar -- an average finish of 16.8 with an average start of 12th -- but he was heading to a possible career-best finish a year ago when he was intentionally wrecked by another competitor.

That 28th-place result, the first Charlotte race Sauter had failed to finish, put a real dent in his 2013 championship hopes but the Wisconsin native is nothing if he's not resilient.

And it's not an ace-in-the-hole necessarily -- because a handful of trucks were at the fast, 1.5-mile speedway about a month ago for two days of testing -- but it does give Sauter and his ThorSport Racing teammates, Matt Crafton and Jeb Burton, some comfort after Thursday's schedule was wiped-out by rain.

 

"We tested from 1 o'clock until 9 o'clock -- right when we're going to be qualifying and racing (Friday)," Sauter said. "Unfortunately for me, we didn't have a very good test but we've completely rebuilt our Nextant Tundra since then.

 

"So I don't expect to have any problems. We'll only have a two-hour practice Friday morning so it'll be pretty interesting, to say the least. I'm just glad we can rely on our teammates a little bit, here. Dennis (Connor, three-time Truck Series champion crew chief) has had some success on this type of track so I'm really excited to be working with him."

 

Friday's schedule was adjusted by the rain-out to include a single, two-hour practice session from 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. ET. The final hour is scheduled to be televised on FOX Sports 1.

 

"Had we not had that test here I really think (the cancellation) would've been a wrench in the plan, for sure," Sauter said. "But I think everybody's pretty much got a baseline setup -- a really good idea of where they want to be.

 

"(Losing practice) is not the end of the world although I'd like to get on the racetrack as much as we could, but if it's not meant to be, oh well... Like I said, Crafton and Burton both had pretty decent tests, so we've got Dennis back and I don't have any reservations about anything."   

 

Sauter's best finish, and his only top-10 at Charlotte, is a sixth in 2011. His favorite intermediate-track Tundra was wiped-out in one of a number of multi-truck wrecks last weekend at Kansas and, given his misfortune a year ago and last week, Sauter's hoping for a silver lining Friday night that might enable him to move up from fifth in the standings.

 

"I hope everybody maybe had their eyes opened a little bit last weekend," Sauter said of the Kansas debacle. "I don't know -- it was the first mile-and-a-half we'd raced on in a while and the first time with these 2014-style trucks. Maybe they'll take care of their stuff a little bit better (Friday) night because you hate to lose race trucks.

"Duke and Rhonda Thorson (owners) and everybody at ThorSport does a good job and they build really nice Tundras and the one we lost (at Kansas) was probably my favorite truck, so you hate to wipe something like that out."

But, as Crafton noted, Sauter also doesn't think the "wrecking mentality" will carry over to the older Charlotte pavement.

"I don't think you'll see (aggressive driving and multi-truck wrecks)," Sauter said. "Charlotte is a pretty racy racetrack and pretty wide and you'll see people being able to run all over the racetrack and hopefully not be running into one another because that's not good."

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Steven B. Wilson

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