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No record, but a top-five for Sauter

April 15, 2013, Brad Norman, NASCAR.com

Johnny Sauter

Driver fails to win three consecutive races top open the season, but will take the hot start nonetheless

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- At a track steeped in history, Johnny Sauter came close to making some of his own.

Navigating the No. 98 Toyota around the historic 1-mile oval affectionately known as The Rock, Sauter had enough speed to hang with the best trucks, but not enough to pass them in the final stretch of Sunday’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200. The 34-year-old, who opened the season by winning at Daytona International Speedway and Martinsville Speedway, fell short in his bid to become the first driver in NASCAR Camping World Truck Series history to open the season with three consecutive victories.

Sauter finished fourth and he, along with the rest of the field, watched 20-year-old Kyle Larson break clear away from the pack early, then hold on during a green-white-checkered restart to win his first NASCAR national series event. Larson led 187 of 205 laps, including a stretch of more than 175. 

“It just wasn’t meant to be,” Sauter said. “Two wins and a fourth, I don’t know anybody that would shake their head at that. … We've just got to keep it rolling, try to keep the momentum going.”

"Johnny Sauter's a constant professional. I appreciate that because he could have ruined my day really quick. "

-- Brendan Gaughan

It may not have been Sauter’s day, but he acknowledged there is plenty going right for him three races into the 22-race schedule. He leads the Truck Series standings by 16 points, is the only driver with three top-fives this year and was the only non-Turner Scott Motorsports driver to lead a lap Sunday. Larson led 187, defending Truck Series champion James Buescher led 17 and Sauter led one, beating Larson to the start/finish line on a restart before quickly ceding his position.

He also produced some of the most aggressive racing, diving all over the track’s high-banked turns with third-place finisher Brendan Gaughan and sixth-place finisher Matt Crafton, Sauter’s teammate at ThorSport Racing.

After losing eight spots during a pit stop midway through the race, Sauter weaved his way back into the top-five by dueling with Crafton, which led to the No. 98 truck nearly spinning out in Turn 4 on Lap 151.

“I got to give Johnny a really big kudos -- we ran I think 15, 20 laps side-by-side at Rockingham,” said Gaughan, who earned his first top-five of the year. “I was pitching him down a little bit, he was trying to run me up a little bit, but we never even gave a donut, we never did nothing, and to do that at Rockingham with as much as you’re sliding around … Johnny Sauter's a constant professional. I appreciate that because he could have ruined my day really quick.”

No day was ruined, although Sauter couldn’t help but admit he thought he would finish higher. The No. 98 team rolled out a blazing truck during Saturday’s practice sessions, giving them confidence that history was at hand. Qualifying on Sunday approximately three hours before the race didn’t go as planned, though.

Sauter qualified 11th, and although he moved through the field in the opening laps and was in the top five by Lap 40, starting behind Larson -- who qualified third --  was a scenario too difficult to overcome.  

“We felt like we had the truck to beat in practice and we came out and didn't qualify as well as we’d hoped, and I think a lot of that was me,” Sauter said. “(And) we just had a little bit of trouble on pit road and lost a lot of track position. We were able to get it back, but I think the 30 truck (Larson) was playing with everybody all day. 

“But all in all, a great day for us. Top-fives are what we need to do if we’re going to be serious about this championship.”

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