Johnny Sauter, driver of the No. 98 Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff/Curb Records Toyota Tundra, started Saturday's Kroger 200 from the 17th position, ran as high as second, but consistently inside the top-12, and finished ninth. The solid run was the ThorSport Racing driver's eighth top-10 finish in 16 starts at the half-mile "paperclip," and his 15th top-10 finish of the 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) season.
Starting from the inside of row 9, Sauter quickly reported that his Toyota Tundra was, "tight," but through the race's first 35 laps, his No. 98 machine swung to the "free" side. Unable to make ground on the race track, crew chief Doug George opted to keep Sauter out during the race's second caution, at lap 35, when most of the front runners came to pit road, for track position. Restarting the race from the second position, Sauter was able to hold his ground early-on, but a long green flag run, on old tires, forced the Smokey Snuff driver to lose valuable track position.
When the race's third caution flag was waved at lap 63, for an accident in Turn 3, George brought the No. 98 machine to pit road for four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment. Restarting 20th, at lap 67, Sauter slowly made his way inside the top-10 over the ensuing 60 laps, complaining of "no forward drive."
Fortunately for Sauter, an accident in Turn 2 brought out the race's sixth caution of the afternoon at lap 122, which allowed the two-time Martinsville winner to come down pit road, with the race leaders, for four tires, fuel, and a wedge adjustment to aid in the handling. Restarting 11th, with 71 laps remaining, Sauter was able to work his way inside the top-10 by lap 160, and contended for a spot inside the top-five by lap 180. Unfortunately, a string of late-race restarts, including the "big one," with six laps remaining, relegated the SmokeySnuff.com driver to a ninth-place finish in the 34th annual NCWTS event at Martinsville Speedway.
Following the Kroger 200, Sauter remains fourth in the 2015 NCWTS championship point standings, with only three races remaining in the season.
"We just missed it today. Track position is obviously important at Martinsville (Speedway), and because of our qualifying effort, we just couldn't make up any ground. I have to thank everyone at Smokey Mountain for being onboard today, they allowed us to have some fun with this 'Jack-O-Peach' paint scheme for Halloween, and it looked good. Ninth is decent, from where we started, but it hurts, especially here."