Johnny Sauter's won two of the last three spring Martinsville Speedway NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races so he has no reason to believe he can't defend his victory in Saturday afternoon's Kroger 250 with debuting TSR NCWTS sponsor Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff on his No. 98 Toyota Tundra.
"Last year (Martinsville) was a pretty awesome win," Sauter said. "Obviously we came off Daytona winning and came to Martinsville, which is one of my favorite -- if not my favorite -- racetracks and to pull off another win was incredible.
"I grew up in the midwest and short-track racing was always my deal. I love it to this day and actually have some short-track cars of my own. Martinsville reminds me a lot of a track I used to race at (Raceway Park), up in Shakopee, Minn. The first time I came to Martinsville I took to it really well because it's a unique racetrack where ultimately you have to be real patient but you have to be aggressive."
After winning last season's Daytona kickoff, Sauter equaled some relatively unique NASCAR history by also winning the season's second race, at Martinsville -- something only five other drivers in NASCAR's national series history have done.
In the process, Sauter scored ThorSport's third career one-two finish, as 2013 NCWTS drivers' champion Matt Crafton was second in his No. 88 Rip It Energy Fuel/Menards Toyota. After hiring Virginia native Jeb Burton to wheel its No. 13 Tundra this season, TSR now has the drivers that finished 1-2-3 at Martinsville in the spring, with Burton also tying his career-best finish at his home track in the fall, when he was third again.
"I think it's cool and it just shows the strength of our organization at ThorSport," Sauter said. "I think Jeb will be running a similar setup to what I ran there last year and we are, as well. That just depends on what the driver wants to feel, but they're not radically different, either.
"We'll have some extra practice time Friday and I'm looking forward to that, but we've got three really good drivers that can feed off one another and share information and I see that being nothing but a benefit."
With the triple-threat lineup his ThorSport Racing organization's bringing to Virginia this weekend, Sauter's also banking on how effective a weapon he and crew chief Gene Wachtel feel their 2014 Tundra -- which has a completely re-worked nose section -- will be at Martinsville, at .526 miles the shortest track the Truck Series races on.
"All the manufacturers had a change in body styles and to me, the Toyota Tundra looks really, really cool -- like the truck you see at the dealership -- so the fans have a lot better identity with the manufacturers," Sauter said. "One of the biggest things that stands out in my mind is the splitter, which is substantially different than anything we've had in the past.
"The splitter's now tucked more under the nose of the truck and I think there's a lot there that's going to change the balance of the trucks, particularly at a place like Martinsville. We've hardly touched the tip of the iceberg with that kind of stuff because Daytona really wasn't a good place to see the effect of that (splitter) position."
Martinsville's spring race is 50 laps longer than the 200-lapper held in the fall and Sauter, obviously, knows what that means to his team's strategy and his own vehicle conservation plan.
"You have to be a little more patient in the spring, I think, to take care of your equipment -- your brakes and your tires and things like that," Sauter said. "I'm not saying I'm good at that, by any means (laughing) but I think I do a pretty good job at it because it's a racetrack where a driver can get into a rhythm where you have to discipline yourself not to overdrive the corners or get back in the gas too hard, too early.
"You kinda have to know when to go and when not to go and when to stick your nose in there and when not to. There are just a lot of things that have to go right to be successful at Martinsville -- but it's just a fun place to race. Obviously not getting caught up in someone else's mess and pit strategy seems to play a pretty big role in the spring race because you know it's going to be a two-stop race."
Martinsville being the debut race for Sauter's six-race 2014 program with Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff, "America's original and best-selling tobacco-free smokeless brand," is the icing on the cake for the Wisconsin veteran, who has nine wins in his 121-race ThorSport career.
"For whatever reason we seem to run well there, especially as of late, so last year was special to get (a second grandfather) clock -- my wife and I say we've got one for our son and one for our daughter, now we need one for ourselves," Sauter said of Martinsville's signature prize. "And with this being the first weekend with new colors on our truck, with Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff, we're really looking forward to that and trying to get our third Martinsville win, which would be really cool."
"Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff was looking for a competitive team and a specific type of driver to fit our brand identity," Dave Savoca, president of Smokey Mountain Chew, Inc. said. "We believe both ThorSport and Johnny Sauter are a great fit for the Smokey Mountain brand and we can't wait to see them in action at Martinsville."
After opening inspection on Thursday afternoon, Martinsville's Truck weekend's on-track activity opens with extra practice time on Friday. The trucks hit the track from 9 - 11:45 a.m. ET and for final practice from 3 - 4:25 p.m. The latter session will be televised live on FOX Sports 1.
The Truck Series' inaugural -- since Daytona's qualifying session was rained-out -- multi-segment, elimination-style group Keystone Light Pole Qualifying session to set the 36-truck starting lineup is Saturday at 11:10 a.m., again with live coverage on FOX Sports 1 beginning at 11.