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Sauter Is Sitting On Top Of The Camping World

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 9 2011

Johnny Sauter lights up his tires after winning at Martinsville earlier this year. Sauter has found a home at ThorSport. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

Kansas City, Kan. – It was a confused and uncertain Johnny Sauter who stood toeing the asphalt in the Kansas Speedway garages in April of 2010. He was confused and uncertain about his future as a NASCAR driver.

So unhappy was he that he was thinking exit strategies. Perhaps go back to Wisconsin and become a civilian, he said when asked what he would do should he step away.

Last Saturday, not 200 yards way from the asphalt he had been toeing the year before, Sauter stood a smiling, certain, unconfused non-civilian.

The difference, he was asked?

“Being competitive,” Sauter said. “To have something to drive that’s competitive, that’s all you can ask for.”

As Sauter said those words, his competitiveness on race tracks could not be questioned. He had just finished second at Kansas and for the second time this season, was the Camping World Truck Series points leader.

His finish had given him his fifth top-seven finish of the 2011 season in eight starts. The only thing which kept the 33-year-old from winning the O’Reilly 250 that day was Sprint Cup regular Clint Bowyer, who won the race in a well-financed entry from Kevin Harvick Inc.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our effort,” Sauter said of life at ThorSport Racing these

Johnny Sauter leads Camping World in points. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Erik J. Perel)

days. “Everybody is stepping up to help this effort. My team owner, Duke Thorson, spends a lot of his own money to do this. This is what it takes. We got a good group of young guys on my team that are hungry and it motivates me.”

It was waning motivation which inserted the doubts into Sauter’s head a year ago.

The native of Necedah, Wis. has been around. He is the son of Jim Sauter, a well-known Wisconsin driver who started 76 Sprint Cup races in the 1980s and ‘90s. He is the younger brother of Tim Sauter, who started 224 NASCAR races in Cup, Nationwide and trucks. His other older brother, Jay, started 141 races in NASCAR’s upper-tier series.

Johnny broke into the big time in 2001, running in the Nationwide Series driving for Richard Childress Racing. He would go on to start 200 races in the series.

In 2003, he got his first Sprint Cup start, driving for Larry McClure. He would start 81 Cup races.

His first Camping World start came in 2003 as well, but up until 2009, his truck experience was limited to part-time rides for a variety of owners.

In 2009, he went trucking full time – though not totally enthusiastically as he still had hopes of racing in Cup. He won a race that year and was rookie of the year. In 2010, he started the season by merely pressing on.

“It can wear on you,” Sauter said Saturday of career disappointments. “You know, I feel

The trucks of Johnny Sauter and Ron Hornaday Jr. get sideways after making contact with each other late in the 2010 race at Kansas Speedway. Both drivers saved their trucks and Sauter won the race. (Photo by Rick Dole/Getty Images)

like I’ve won races, Nationwide races, truck races, ASA championship. I’ve won in everything I’ve driven but a Sprint Cup car and had top-five finishes in that. It’s tough. This is a very humbling sport and can beat you up, you know?”

About 24 hours after his words at Kansas in 2010, his attitude began to change.

Sauter won the Kansas race the next day, beating Ron Hornaday Jr. after Hornaday bumped Sauter from behind and sent them both sideways late in the race.

Sauter made a classic save and went on to win the race.

He would go on to record 14 top-five finishes and had an average finish of eighth. He would up third in the standings.

Sauter started the 2011 season with the extremely realistic goal of winning the Camping World championship.

“We’ve worked on our pit stops, we’ve done all the stuff to where we can compete week in and week out for wins,” Sauter said. “That’s a serious motivator for me.”

This week, the trucks head to Texas Motor Speedway for Friday night race.

Sauter, 12 points up on rookie Cole Whitt in the standings and 30 points up on third-place Austin Dillon, has five previous starts at TMS. He won the pole there two years ago and last year, he finished second in both TMS truck races.

His average finish the last four races there is fourth.

Chances of heading into a month’s worth of byes before racing again at Kentucky with a good finish and the points lead look good.

“We’ve always run up front there,” Sauter said. “The goal with my crew chief, Joe Shear, Jr, is to run up front from the get go. I’m hoping to build on the finishes we had there last year for sure – twice we finished in second, and we had the truck to win.  I’m pretty motivated to get to Texas right now.”

And pretty motivated to keep his return to civilian life on hold.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 9 2011
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