Monday, September 28, 2009

Johnny Sauter takes lead with 16 laps to go, wins Las Vegas 350

By Anthony Fenech

Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009 | 11:32 p.m.

Saturday night, Johnny Sauter pulled himself out of his truck at Las Vegas Motor Speedway no differently than he had at any time during his truck racing career.

He planted both hands on the roof of his gold No. 13 Chevy Silverado and squeezed through the window-shaped opening until his body cleared the car.

With fireworks painting the night sky and the smell of burnt rubber lingering from the finish line, Sauter leaned forward on the car and for the first time in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series career, raised his hands in victory.

“Yeah!” shouted the rookie, before tossing his drink.

Nearly a year after stocking parts for the Nationwide series out of his garage at home, Sauter was the winner of the Las Vegas 350, thrusting himself into the top five in the NCWTS points standings and completing the first one-two sweep for Thor Sport Racing.

“It was unbelievable, a phenomenal day,” Sauter said. “It’s been a long time, and it feels pretty darn good.”

For seven years, Sauter bounced around the Nationwide circuit and competed in a number of Sprint Cup races before returning to truck racing this season with Thor.

With 16 laps to go in the race, Sauter closely trailed his teammate, Matt Crafton of the No. 88 truck, when he made a move to the inside and passed him down the Nellis Straightaway. From there, he never relinquished the lead.

“That thing is a rocket ship,” Crafton said of Sauter’s truck. “We just didn’t have the speed that he did today.”

The teammates differed in their strategies late in the race, when Sauter decided to take a pit stop and change all four tires — while most of the field only took two — and Crafton elected to stay out on the track.

“We had to roll the dice at that point,” Crafton said.

Sauter came back out on the track in 13th place and ascended through the field from there.

He is the first NCWTS Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate to win a race since Carl Edwards won at Nashville in 2003.

Todd Bodine won the pole with a speed of 173.371 mph and a time of 31.147 seconds around the 1.5 mile track.

He finished fourth, behind Sauter, Crafton and Jason White, whose third-place finish was a career-best.

The victory highlights a recent run of six top-five finishes in six races for Sauter and his new crew chief, Joe Shear Jr.

“This is awesome,” Shear said. “Me and Johnny just gel.”

“It’s an unbelievable night for Thor Sport Racing as a whole,” Sauter said of his team’s performance. “I hope a lot of people take notice that we’re for real and will be contending for wins week-in and week-out now.”

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