Sauter starts 2nd seeking cap to "perfect week" at Martinsville

The past week has been one of the best in Johnny Sauter's racing life, so a chance to gain a Martinsville Speedway sweep by winning Saturday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Kroger 200 in his No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota would be perfect.

Sauter made a great first step Friday in Keystone Light Pole Qualifying when he earned the second starting position -- losing the pole by just .002 seconds to Sprint Cup star Denny Hamlin, whose Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota was the last truck to run.

Sauter's ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton -- who takes a 57-point lead in the championship into Saturday's race and who finished second to Sauter here in the spring -- will start 13th.

"I couldn't be more proud of all the guys at ThorSport," Sauter said after watching Hamlin's hot lap. "This Carolina Nut / Curb Records Toyota was just solid. I didn't think we were going to qualify that good so I was surprised to even be in the running for the pole.

"We don't typically qualify that great here and just always try to get a solid starting spot. We worked on race trim stuff (in practice) so I'm just proud of everybody. This is going to be an interesting race (Saturday)."

Sauter actually forecast himself as a pole threat in two Friday morning practices. In the first, he posted the fourth-best lap, 19.861 seconds, on his 13th of 24 laps. In the second, he was sixth on 19.797 seconds on his 37th of 38 laps. He continued that progression with a 19.627-second lap in qualifying.

Much as he did in the spring when he won the Kroger 250 after winning on the superspeedway at Daytona, Sauter's riding a wave of momentum after winning last weekend's Fred's 250 Powered by Coca-Cola at Talladega -- his third win this season but his first since Martinsville in April.

Two days after his ninth career Truck Series win, ThorSport and Nextant Aerospace announced a two-year sponsorship deal for Sauter's No. 98  that'll have Nextant as primary sponsor for 12 races in each of the next two seasons along with associate sponsorship in every race.

"Nextant Aerospace signing with ThorSport was obviously the news of the week for us and if anybody is looking on their computers right now you can go to Next98.com and check it all out," Sauter said. "That's a huge partnership for not only myself, being able to have the opportunity to know that I'm going to be able to go to the racetrack and race for the next couple years, but for ThorSport as a whole.

"I think that's just a step in the right direction and this year has been huge for ThorSport. Based in Sandusky, Ohio, obviously Matt -- it looks like he's on the way to his first championship and Frank Kimmel wrapped up the ARCA championship.

"Again, I echo what Matt said -- it's just the commitment from (owners) Duke and Rhonda Thorson.They've been at this for 17, 18 years now and this is big. Every year we seem to get better and this is good, so hopefully next year it's me and Matt going down to the wire trying to run for another championship."

But this weekend a Martinsville sweep is Sauter's primary goal and he has the same truck he won with in the spring, a piece his team only uses at Martinsville.


"I'm stoked because that's one of my favorite trucks, obviously," Sauter said. "For this weekend it's trimmed in pink, so that's a little bit different but it's all good -- and I can't think of a better track to follow-up all the good things that have happened this week."

Sauter said 50 fewer laps in this race versus the one in the spring and different temperatures -- much cooler now -- might dictate strategy.

"I think any time you race somewhere twice in one season, what you did in the (first) race is very relevant as far as setups," Sauter said. "Strategy will probably be a little bit different. I think (fewer laps) puts a bigger emphasis on getting where you want to be in a hurry.

"I think you're going to see some guys gamble to try to make it a one-stop race. New tires felt really good to me so I don't know if I can go with that strategy yet or not. I'm thinking I'm going to want two sets (of fresh tires), but setups and all that stuff obviously correlate from the spring race -- but it was six months ago.

"Obviously, you learn a lot more stuff throughout the course of the season. We went to Sandusky Speedway, a little speedway (across from the race shop) and shook some stuff down and tried some stuff. I think we're better (but) everybody's better and that's why you don't see a huge difference in speed."  

Sauter still has his sights set on reaching the top-five in the Truck Series' standings. Crafton has led the points for the last 14 races and he's 92 ahead of Sauter -- but Sauter is only four points out of fifth and that's his primary goal in the final four-race stretch of the season. 
 
Sauter will make the 127th Truck Series start of his career, in which he has a better than 50-percent level of top-10 finishes, with 67; when he takes the green flag Saturday afternoon in a race that's being held in conjunction with Sunday's seventh round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
 
Thorsport PR
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