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Trucker Sauter Continues To Feast On Texas Pole Day

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 6 2013

Johnny Sauter celebrated a win in Martinsville earlier this year. On Thursday, he collected at pole in Texas. (RacinToday/HHP photo)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

FORT WORTH, Texas – Johnny Sauter’s twice-a-year visits to Texas Motor Speedway continue to present him with a personal conundrum, even when he’s on a roll.

Sauter swept the June and November NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races on the high-banked, 1.5-mile TMS quadoval last year. Thursday afternoon, Sauter qualified on-pole for Friday night’s 17th annual WinStar World Casino 400 in pursuit of another visit to Victory Lane.

“You mention last year’s sweep of both races,” said Sauter, driver of the No. 98 Carolina Nut Co./Curb Records Toyota Tundra. “I’m not sure if I’m more excited about coming here to the racetrack or going to Dallas for my grandma’s chicken and dumplings.”

For now, Sauter will concentrate on TMS, where he nabbed the Keystone Light Pole Award with a hot lap in 29.963-seconds and 180.222 mph. Sauter was the only driver in the 32-truck field to crack the 29-second barrier, with Ty Dillon grabbing the other front-row spot in 30.036-seconds and 179.784 mph.

“This is a shot in the arm, for sure,” said Sauter, who registered his fifth pole in 115 NCWTS races as well as his first pole and fourth top-10 start in 2013. And for whatever reason, he remains dialed-in at TMS.

“I wish I knew (the secret), because I’d I try to apply it to all the other racetracks we go to,” Sauter said. “This is a racetrack where the asphalt is getting a little bit of age on it and as drivers, we all kind of like that. The racetrack has a lot of character. You hear talking a lot about the bumps in (Turns) 1 and 2 over the tunnel; it kind of throws you for a curveball. And the trucks are real, real tricky because we go through the center of the corner so fast, especially in qualifying. A qualifying lap is essentially wide-open and as you get into the race, you saw today our race speeds slow down a second-and-a-half.

“There’s just a huge variation in the way you have to drive. You’re wide-open at the beginning of a run and by Lap 20 you’ve lost a lot of grip. Just a lot of give-and-take here and ultimately, the guy with the most grip typically has a good chance at winning here.”

Dillon, a grandson of NASCAR team-owner Richard Childress, said he is well-aware of Sauter’s run of success at TMS and promised to do something about it. Speed’s broadcast will begin at 8:30 p.m. (EDT).

“Well, I plan on taking his name off that billboard,” said Dillon, driver of the No. 3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Silverado. “I’ve seen it a lot in Victory Lane, so I think we’ve got a good chance at it. We’re going to do all it takes to beat him. He seems to run better in this race than he does in the fall race and we’ll see what we can do. Hopefully, we can be the ones to take him down.”

Despite Dillon’s bravado, Sauter insisted he doesn’t feel like a marked man here. “I’ve had a lot of drivers from different teams asking me questions about what I think the racetrack’s going to do from daytime to nighttime _ moreso here than other places,” Sauter said. “I’m assuming they’re looking at how we’ve run here in the past and said, ‘Hey, that’s a guy we need to talk to.’ But I’m smart enough to know that just because we had success here a year ago doesn’t guarantee anything. You still have to be smart and work hard. I don’t know; I hope I don’t have a bullseye on my back. I hope we keep continuing to do what we do here.”

Currently fourth in the Truck Series championship – 43 points behind Matt Crafton and his No. 88 Goof Off/Menards Toyota – TMS couldn’t come at a better time for Sauter. A 35-year-old Necedah, Wis., native, Sauter began the year with wins at Daytona and Martinsville, and a top-five at Rockingham.

Next up was the 1.5-mile Kansas Speedway, where Sauter finished fifth but subsequently was docked 25 points by NASCAR for fuel cell violations that knocked him out of the point lead and led to a four-race suspension for crew chief Joel Shear. The misfortune continued at the next race on the 1.5-mile Charlotte Motor Speedway, where Sauter finished 28th following a wreck with just 19 laps remaining.

Sauter rebounded last week with a seventh-place finish on Dover’s all-concrete “Monster Mile” layout. “I’m a realistic person,” Sauter said. “When you start off the year 2-0 and things are going pretty good and you’re leading the points and you go to Kansas and struggle a little bit but still manage to finish in the top 5…

“You mention the infraction and we lost 25 points; crew chief Joel is still suspended. He comes back at Iowa on July 13th and it’s tough. You think you got everything going your way but racing, sometimes you make choices that probably aren’t best-suited. But we all stick together and work together. Charlotte was an adjustment for us. It’s the first time I haven’t had my crew chief with me at a racetrack in a long time and it was a major adjustment. In practice, you didn’t know who to talk to but I think we’re getting better at. Tonight we’ll go back to the hotel where Joel, my crew chief, is and kind of go over the day and try to make the best guesses we can for the race.” Jesse Saunders is serving as interim crew chief.

Dillon, 21, will make his fourth start at TMS, where he has logged three consecutive top-10 finishes.

“Our Bass Pro Shops Chevy was actually faster than I thought it would be as far as qualifying runs,” said Dillon, who started third and finished seventh in the 167-lap event last June. “I figured we’d qualify somewhere in the top-10 but didn’t know we’d have a chance for the pole and end up second. Johnny beat us out but I’m excited to start on the front row again. It’s been a great racetrack for me and this time I think our truck is better in race trim than it was qualifying last year. I’m excited to see what we can do tomorrow night. It’s time for our good luck to start happening as far as finishing-out races.”

Series rookie Jeb Burton – son of 2002 Daytona 500 champion Ward Burton – will start third in his TMS debut after lapping at 30.059-seconds/179.647 mph. “I’m kind of disappointed we didn’t get the pole but it was a good run,” said Burton, a three-time pole-winner in the No. 4 Arrowhead Chevrolet fielded by Turner Scott Motorsports. “We’ve been good at intermediate tracks, so I’m hoping to get myself one of those cowboy hats in Victory Lane.”

Burton, 20, is second in the series championship, 30 points behind Crafton. Burton’s season has been buoyed by four top-10 finishes, including two among the top-five.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, June 6 2013
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