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Sauter Saves Truck, Day In Kansas

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 2 2010

The trucks of Johnny Sauter and Ron Hornaday Jr. get sideways after making contact with each other late in Sunday's race at Kansas Speedway. Both drivers saved their trucks. (Photo by Rick Dole/Getty Images)

Kansas City, Kan. – The Camping World Truck Series season is just five races old, but 2010’s signature moment happened Sunday at Kansas Speedway. Heck, it was so good, it may be the best thing that happens in any of NASCAR’s top three series all year.

Johnny Sauter was leading the O’Reilly Auto Parts 250 with Ron Hornaday Jr. just a few truck lengths behind. As they approached Turn 3 on lap 155, two lapped trucks were in front of them, and Sauter chose the high line.

“I’d seen Ron was going to charge in there and the big deal here in lapped traffic is to overdrive the corner and that thing will take off and push real bad,” Sauter said. “I just rolled out of the throttle early and Ron charged it on in there and I knew that we’d have momentum on our side by the time we exited the corner, I could beat him. But apparently we tried to make it three wide—I don’t know what it was—four wide or whatever it was and he got into me and I couldn’t but sit there and think while I was trying to save it and correct it that ‘that darn Hornaday got me again’.”

Remember, Hornaday bumped and crashed Sauter at Martinsville on April 2nd, and the theme of the four-week layoff for the Truck Series concerned speculation about when Sauter would pay Hornaday back.

“I don’t know how we did it. Hat’s off to the team. I had a good run on Johnny, got down there and I knew he was going to race up back on the outside and them two trucks – the lapped trucks – were up there running side by side and I lost the nose real bad and when you lose the nose, you put a lot of steering wheel into it and when it grabbed, it banged loose and I got up into Johnny,” Hornaday said.

The contact sent both trucks into what was close to a 60 degree slide. Sauter’s truck headed towards the wall, while Hornaday pedaled the throttle and headed for the grass. It looked like it was a big break for Todd Bodine, who was in third, eight seconds back.

“They were too far in front of me to see it. All I heard on the radio was ‘they’re wrecking in front of you, they’re wrecking in front of you! Keep going, keep digging!’ I knew that when you get those two together racing for the lead and something’s going to happen,” Bodine, who finished third, said.

But the caution flag never flew. Sauter stayed in the gas as his right rear corner clipped the wall, and Hornaday got his truck straightened out before and pointed straight ahead before he got to the grass.

“Did I hit the wall? To be honest with you, I didn’t – my biggest fear was after he got into me and I saved it and I straightened it out and I kept going, I was like ‘OK, this is either going to be really bad because the toe is completely knocked off or we had a flat tire’ and I took the next two laps and kept taking it easy thinking I was going to have a flat tire,” Sauter said.

“And it kept going, kept going, kept going and finally I didn’t believe it until about six laps into the run and I saw Ron kept getting smaller and smaller in the mirror and I said, ‘If we don’t get a caution, we’ve got this race won,’ but you know, I’m the first one to tell you that if the caution had come out there, me and Ron would have both been in trouble because our trucks had so much damage. I just got really loose there at the end and it’s unbelievable stuff right there.”

Sauter ended up cruising to a 5.032 second victory – not a bad present just a day after his 32nd birthday – as Hornaday’s save absolutely cooked his tires. Both drivers had the best trucks all day, but Hornaday kept getting struck back in the pack after numerous pit stops to fix an unsolvable left rear tire rub.

“Nope. Same truck we had at Atlanta and did the same thing there, so I think when we dropped the jack – you know, you’ve got all the weight on the right side tires and the fender is so close on the top of the tire that when it came down it landed on the top of it and bent it under,” Hornaday said.

Left rear tire smoke and all, Hornaday had a faster truck over the last portion of the race, working his way from outside the top 10 to second in just 10 laps succeeding the restart after a 90 minute red flag for a brief severe thunderstorm cell. He even got alongside Sauter eight laps before the two came together, but was never able to complete the pass.

“I think he was better than us, there was no question, but like I said before, I don’t think he could have gotten by me unless I made a really bad mistake,” a birthday cake-covered Sauter said,  “And I made sure that I used the traffic to my advantage, but the thing is with these trucks, you’re going so fast in the middle of the corner – I can’t emphasize that enough. I’ve driven Cup cars here, I’ve driven Nationwide cars here –we’re hauling the mail through the middle of the corner and I just knew that he’d get aero tight if I could just make sure – because he was hooked up on the bottom of the racetrack and I kept watching in the mirror and I knew if I could take that preferred groove way from him that he would never get momentum to pass us.”

Which begs the question: if Hornaday had gotten by Sauter, would he have been willing to cash in his revenge for Martinsville?

“I can’t say that the thought didn’t cross my mind. You know, yeah, I mean drivers, at least I can speak for myself, but you always hear the saying that they never forget. But you know, you don’t want to be stupid here. I’m not a vengeful guy or somebody that’s malicious, I guess. I would never want to hurt Ron or wreck Ron. We’ve raced together too long in the Nationwide Series and other divisions. Late model racing last year, he tore the right rear quarterpanel off my late model in Wisconsin. I mean, that’s the way Ron races, he races hard, so the intent is never there though. I think I speak for every driver when if something happened and someone got hurt, like the  Brad Keselowski and Carl Edwards deal, that would be bad, bad,” Sauter said.

But that aggressive racing was certainly good, good for the fans that braved the thunderstorm and waited out the track drying process for the final 48 laps.

“I’m just glad he saved it. Both of us saved it. I’d hate to wreck Johnny for the win but it was good racing. You guys probably have to admit, it was the best race we’ve had at Kansas in a while,” Hornaday said.

– Nick Bromberg is a frequent contributor to RacinToday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, May 2 2010
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