Johnny Sauter goes for three at Martinsville
March 27, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
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"That's all good," Sauter said Tuesday. "It might be a fun race on the snow."
Whatever weather might be dished up, there's little doubt of Sauter's ability to get around NASCAR's most historic short track. The 35-year-old driver has won two of the last three springtime races to snare two of the .526-mile paper-clip track's trademark grandfather clock trophies ahead of Sunday's Kroger 250 (5:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1).
"For whatever reason, we seem to run well there, especially as of late," said Sauter, who went back-to-back with wins at Daytona and Martinsville last year to start the season. "Last year was really special to get two clocks. My wife always jokes we've got a clock for my son and we've got a clock for my daughter. Just need to get one for ourselves. So, hopefully this weekend."
Sauter's short-track pedigree easily places him among the pre-race favorites. The ThorSport Racing veteran cut his teeth on the bullrings of the Midwest earlier in his career and said he quickly connected with Martinsville because of its similarities to the tight, flat layout of the former Raceway Park in Shakopee, Minn.
Martinsville's characteristics tend to help drivers develop a rhythm for the snug turns, long straights and hard braking involved. Sauter said that drivers almost compete with the track as much as they do against each other.
"The first time I went to Martinsville, I felt like I took to it really well," Sauter said. "It's just a unique race track where ultimately you have be really patient, but you have to be aggressive. You kind of have to know when to go and when not to go, when to stick your nose in there and when not to. There's just a lot of things that have to go right to be successful at Martinsville, obviously not getting caught up in somebody's mess."
Avoiding trouble may also be the theme of the series' first go-round for multi-vehicle, knockout-style Keystone Light Pole Qualifying (the truck tour's first try at the new format was rained out at Daytona). Sauter says he's already discussed strategy with crew chief Eugune Wachtel, but that Martinsville may present its own challenges.
"Just from watching the last couple weeks with the other two series and how they've played the game as far as qualifying is concerned, 30 minutes is a lot longer time than you think it is," Sauter said. "There's actually some time that if you want to be the first guy on the race track you can, or if you want to sit and wait and try to get a clean shot on the race track, you can do that as well. Martinsville's one of those places where a lot of times in practice, we actually get faster with 12 or 15 laps on our tires, so I think you're going see speeds increase throughout the qualifying session for the first and second segments.
"The biggest thing is making sure the race track is clear when you put that big number down and nobody is spinning out. ... You're going to rely on your spotter quite a bit, I think. Hopefully, it all works out."
In last year's win, Sauter bypassed Jeb Burton's Turner Scott Motorsports entry with 17 laps to go and held off ThorSport teammate and eventual series champ Matt Crafton for the eighth of his nine victories in the series. This weekend at Martinsville, Burton will be in a third ThorSport Toyota, meaning the top three from lastyear's race will all be under the same team umbrella come Saturday.
Sauter said that though the three drivers' preferences will mean some nuance to their setups, he expects an "open-book policy" toward collaboration and strategy.
"I think it's good -- I think you've got three really good drivers obviously that can feed off one another and share information," Sauter said. "With the finishing order the way that it ended up last year, I don't see any reason why that wouldn't be a benefit."