Johnny Sauter came to Martinsville Speedway for Saturday's Kroger 200 with his No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota being the most recent NASCAR Camping World Truck Series winner on the unique .526-mile oval, so nothing less than another win would satisfy him.
That was exactly what occurred in the season's 19th race, as Sauter qualified on the outside of the front row, took a bonus point for leading nine laps and ran in the top 10 for virtually all of the race -- finally finishing eighth, his 12th top-10 finish, which is second-best in the series to his ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton's 17 top 10s.
But as he stood in the garage next to his battered pink-trimmed black Tundra, none of those "big picture" items mattered for the guy who's won three times this season -- the most of any Truck Series regular -- and who felt like he'd seen another great chance to win slip away.
"If you got stuck back in the pack, guys weren't really driving very well or very smart."
Sauter found himself in the top-three for the first third of the race, as he got the jump on pole-winning Sprint Cup regular Denny Hamlin -- who won this race in 2012 by knocking Crafton out of his way late in the going -- to lead the first nine laps.
Eventual race-winner Darrell Wallace Jr. grabbed the lead from Sauter on the 10th lap and the two Truck Series regulars and Hamlin distanced themselves from the rest of the field and swapped positions among themselves until the race's second caution flag flew, at lap 70.
Sauter's crew executed a four tires and fuel stop and after dealing with traffic getting off Martinsville's cramped pit road, Sauter restarted in fifth. Sauter quickly dispatched Crafton's chief championship rival coming into the race, Ty Dillon and raced in the top-five until a restart at lap 97, when Ron Hornaday moved up the racetrack and hit Sauter's truck's left-front corner and nose, causing damage that was repaired on a pit stop during the next caution, which came out on lap 100 for debris.
After pitting to repair the damage Sauter restarted in 18th and for the next 40 laps Sauter grimly raced to get back into the top 10, which he did with 50 laps to go, restarting ninth after the seventh of 10 cautions.
Sauter actually lopped 10 points off Crafton's advantage, which is now 82 points to fifth. Crafton lost a few points to defending Truck Series champion James Buescher, who is now 51 points behind Crafton after jumping over Dillon in the standings.