Iowa renews Sauter's hope after Canada dismay

There's no place like home for anyone, let alone a racecar driver, and even though Iowa's definitely not Johnny Sauter's home, there could be no better place for the Wisconsin native to be this weekend than at Iowa Speedway for Sunday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Fan Appreciation 200 presented by New Holland.

Sauter's average finish in six Truck Series starts on the .875-mile oval is fifth, second only to ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton's 4.7 average. Sauter buttresses that with a 5.7 average start so it's easy to see why he's anxious for his No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota to be unloaded Saturday.

"Iowa's a short track, we all grew up racing on short tracks but it's a place that I've particularly thrived on," Sauter said. "Timing is everything and after we thought we had our season turned around back at Bristol, we went to Canada.

"But the great thing about my crew chief, Dennis Connor and my team is we never give up -- no matter how heartbreaking some of the racing luck we've had this season has been. That's why I'm glad we're in Iowa this weekend."

Sauter's five-race career record at Iowa was superlative when the series arrived for its July night race. Sauter had five consecutive top-five finishes at Iowa before he had a tire go down and send him into the wall midway through the most recent race. The fact that Sauter came back to finish 11th with a wounded Tundra has his spirits up.

"Since Dennis has come on board we've had great trucks," Sauter said. "That's got me fired-up about this weekend."

Sauter's still in a position to make a step toward getting back into the top-five in the standings. He's currently 10th, 39 points out of fifth and 107 behind series-leader Crafton.

There will be a single Truck Series practice on Saturday, from 11 a.m. - 1:20 p.m. CT. A public autograph session featuring Truck Series drivers is scheduled in the infield fan zone from 4:15-5 p.m. Coors Light Pole Qualifying to set the starting lineup is scheduled for 6:05 p.m.

 

The 200-lap, 175-mile Fan Appreciation 200 presented by New Holland will be telecast live on FOX Sports 1 at 1 p.m. CT, preceded at 12:30 p.m. by The Setup pre-race show. MRN Radio's live broadcast begins at 1. Live timing & scoring is available at www.nascar.com.   

 

Last weekend's Chevrolet Silverado 250, the Truck Series' first road race in 13 years and the inaugural event at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, was a tough pill for Sauter and his team to swallow.

 

A baffling issue that primarily affected the fuel system last Sunday ended Sauter's race before it really got started, ultimately resulting in Sauter's second DNF of the season. 

 

After several long pit stops -- the first of which came shortly after the 10-lap mark, though the problem was apparent when Sauter made his first pit stop, timed perfectly as the race's first caution flew at lap six -- Sauter was scored 28th in the final rundown.

 

"Unbelieveable -- I don't know what else can happen to us this season," Sauter said. "I hate if we ruined anyone's day by bringing out that last caution but there was nothing we could do. We were just trying to make something out of a strange day."

 

Sauter's truck's indecipherable condition, which the team was unable to diagnose in the first day back at the shop, before they had to set it aside to concentrate on the Iowa truck, caused it to stop on the racetrack several times, before quickly refiring.

 

Once, it caused a local yellow on the backstretch when the truck momentarily stopped, then refired and continued. And that's what happened in the closing laps, which was enough to bring out a caution and set up a mayhem-filled last lap that enabled Sauter's ThorSport Racing teammate Crafton to grab a 10th-place finish. 

 

After the race, it had Connor beside himself. 

 

"We quite literally changed everything on the fuel system except the main fuel line and the fuel cell -- and there can be nothing wrong with the fuel cell because it just holds gas," Connor said after the race. "Logically there can be nothing wrong with the fuel line so we're all pretty much at a loss.

"We worked so hard on it all day long to try to identify the problem so it never catches us again, but unfortunately we were unable to do so."

Sauter had improved his performance on high speed and technical road course over two days of practice, but that didn't make he or Connor feel any better.

"The frustrating thing is, we practiced for two days and ran two complete cells of fuel out of the truck and had no problem whatsoever," Connor said. "And then the race starts (Sunday) and we don't even run six laps and we're having conditions like we're out of fuel. We weren't out of fuel but we weren't picking up any fuel so it's frustrating."

It was the latest case of what could have been for Sauter and his team.

"I think we had a pretty good truck and we would have had a good finish if we hadn't had that problem," Connor said. "But I can't say it's anything that anybody did wrong -- it's just one of those things that gets you, and we'll have to find out exactly what it was and come back stronger next week." 
 
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Steven B. Wilson

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