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Sauter lives down 'motto' with big win, looks to stay hot

June 28, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com

Johnny Sauter was really ready to 'Bless America' after he finally broke through the bad luck at Texas. (Getty Images)

Texas winner in 2012, near-miss loser last year looks to keep rolling

SPARTA, Ky. -- Well, God bless America! Johnny Sauter won a Camping World Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway and no one tried to take it away from him.

Now Sauter -- who uttered that infamous phrase after he was penalized on the final lap of a truck race he thought he had won, but didn't, a year earlier at the same venue -- sets his sights on Thursday's UNOH 225 at Kentucky Speedway. He's still savoring the Texas victory after mostly bad luck and broken parts led to last year's runner-up in the series finishing 24th or worse in five of the first six races this season.

"...Carrying home one trophy is never enough to completely overcome what should be two. But that's yesterday's news. We'll take this win and try to carry it on to Kentucky."

--JOHNNY SAUTER

"Obviously, it was good. It not only was redemption for last year but for all the struggles we've had this year with the bad luck," Sauter said. "I knew if there was a race we could go to and try to turn things around a little bit, it was Texas. We just had a great truck all night and were in position at the end to win the race.

"Winning a race and carrying home one trophy is never enough to completely overcome what should be two. But that's yesterday's news. We'll take this win and try to carry it on to Kentucky."

Sauter could have been talking not only the trophy that got away previously in Texas, but also about the one that escaped the grasp of his No. 13 Toyota team in the season-opening race at Daytona. Sauter was leading that race as the field came to take the white flag, signifying one lap to go when rookie John King accidentally punted him from behind. Although King apologized later for it, it was King who won the race while Sauter had to settle for 24th.

"Daytona is always a crapshoot. No one ever knows what's going to go on there. But we were in position and it came down to end, leading as we headed to the white flag -- and the next thing, you've got a 24th-place finish," Sauter said.

"That did kind of set the tone the wrong way for the season. Next thing I know, we go to Martinsville and we're running fourth inside 20 to go and we break a spindle; Kansas inside 20 to go, we broke a shifter; at Charlotte, we were running second and running the leader down and the fuel pump went out. In between all that was Rockingham, where we finished fourth. So, we went into Texas needing a good run.

"We've been competitive, but on paper it looks really bad. At the end of the day, though, you've got to hang your hat on something and it's got to be on the positives. We know we can win races, so that's what we've got to do."

That's why Sauter said he's not focusing on the fact that he's 15th in points. The truck schedule was reduced from 25 races to 22 this season, which also doesn't help his planned attempt to get back in the championship hunt after finishing second, third and sixth in the point standings in each of the last three years -- the only three seasons he's run full-time in the series.

"I think it's pretty simple, really. The only way to accumulate a lot of points is to win," Sauter said. "At this point, it's a 90-point deficit (behind current points leader Justin Lofton). A lot of people would look at that and say you're eliminated. But I don't rule anything out. I feel pretty good about where we're at as far as at ThorSport and running trucks that are competitive. So, who's to say anything?

"I think right now the focus not only for me and (crew chief) Joe (Shear, Jr.) and all the guys is just to go to the race track and be aggressive. We're in a position now where we can take the bull by the horns. If there's a risky call to be made or an aggressive move to be made, we can go ahead and take it -- and the consequence isn't going to be as great as if we were leading the points."

Sauter admitted this is the kind of year where he wishes the Truck Series had a Chase for the championship format similar to that of the Sprint Cup Series.

"Last year, I probably wouldn't have wanted to have a Chase," Sauter said. "This year, it's different. But it isn't that way, so I guess I can't lose too much sleep over it. At the end of the day, if a guy can win five races in a season, that's better than a bug in your eye."

Sizzlin' Sauter


Johnny Sauter finally broke through at Texas. Relive his big moment.

What happened at Texas in June of 2011 felt worse than that. Sauter was black-flagged by NASCAR after pulling away on the final restart with two laps remaining. He actually took the checkered flag and thought he had won, but was scored in 22nd for going from the outside lane to in front of Ron Hornaday Jr. on the inside before crossing the start-finish line on the restart.

Chased down as he hustled to his motor home immediately afterward for a comment by reporters, an obviously frustrated and angry Sauter kept moving but shouted over his shoulder, "God bless America!" The moment was captured on video, replayed constantly in the following days and even spawned T-shirts with his photo and the phrase emblazoned on it.

"When I see people I don't necessarily know, even they're like, 'Oh, Johnny Sauter ... the 'God bless America' guy,' '' said Sauter, chuckling. "Believe me, in that kind of circumstance, I'm usually one to say what he thinks. I think I was so caught off-guard and blown away at that moment by what had just happened, that was just the first thing that came to my mind. God bless America. I mean, what else do you say?

"I think it was very cool to back to the same track where that happened and win. I approached the race the same way. I knew people would be talking about that and what had happened. But Texas has been good for ThorSport as a team -- not only for me, but for (teammate) Matt Crafton. So to go there and win definitely makes me feel a little better about the earlier situation."

Now, though, it's on to Kentucky, where Sauter feels good about his chances Thursday night.

"Kentucky is a great place for us," he said. "We sat on the pole there in the spring race and were leading with 20 to go and broke an axle on a green-flag pit stop late in the race. I think it's a track where we can go and hopefully pick right up where we left off in Texas. We're taking the same truck and using the same set-up.

"I like the track. I know they call all the (1.5-mile venues) cookie-cutter tracks, but it's got its own characteristics with the bumps and it's a little bit of a flatter race track with long, sweeping corners. It's a lot of fun to race on, I can tell you that."

And Sauter is very happy about having fun racing again. It could only happen in America.