After win, Sauter ready for tight turn to Bristol
August 19, 2014, Zack Albert, NASCAR.com
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule is in the midst of its now-annual tight turnaround in August, with just four days separating last Saturday afternoon's event at Michigan from Wednesday night's tilt at Bristol Motor Speedway.
It's a quick turn that newly minted points leader Johnny Sauter -- and the series' most recent winner -- doesn't mind making.
Sauter and the rest of the truck series regulars will make their traditional midweek stop at the Thunder Valley bullring for Wednesday's UNOH 200 (8:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1). With 10 races left in the season, Bristol kicks off what Sauter hopes is a favorable stretch in his bid for a breakthrough truck title as the schedule turns toward fall.
"I can't think of a better place to go than Bristol and to be only three, four days away from that is pretty awesome," Sauter said Saturday after notching his first win of the season at Michigan International Speedway. "When I look down the rest of the schedule, I see Vegas, Talladega, Martinsville, Texas, Homestead -- all places that I've won at in the past. ... Having said all that, Bristol's the next one on the list."
"I keep telling everyone around me, they're like, 'Championship, championship,' and I said, 'Well, I'm doing it one week at a time.' If you run well and stay out of trouble, you're going to ultimately, hopefully have a shot at the championship. So right now, next thing on my list is Bristol."
Though Sauter's season had been marked by steady performance with just two finishes outside the top 10 in the first 12 races, his ThorSport Racing team recently made a change at crew chief, bringing in Jeff Hensley and moving former crew chief Dennis Connor to teammate Jeb Burton's crew starting at Michigan.
There was no semblance of a major slump -- Sauter finished second in his last race with Connor at Pocono -- but the team still sought an extra edge. The change produced immediate results in just Hensley's eighth day on the job.
"It was just a deal where we were really running decent this year, we were consistent but we were just maybe lacking a little bit here and there," said Sauter, who extended his streak of seasons with at least one victory to six. "We hadn't won; I think this is the latest in the season in the last four or five years that I hadn't won a race, so it was tough. Ultimately Dennis Connor did a great job; I have all the respect in the world for Dennis. We talked already about it, and it was just a thing we thought was going to make the whole organization stronger."
Hensley, now 1-for-1 atop the pit box for Sauter's No. 98 Toyota, agreed.
"I know. I've been where Johnny's at," said Hensley, who was crew chief for Chuck Bown's 1990 championship in what is now the NASCAR Nationwide Series. "Sometimes you've got to do things that maybe shake things up a bit, and good things happen like happened today. I just feel like I'm the most fortunate person in the world right now to be a part of this."
Short tracks have long been a sweet spot for the 36-year-old Sauter, but a Bristol victory has eluded him thus far in his his truck career. He finished second at the .533-mile track in 2011 and landed a fourth-place run there last season.
Carrying a nine-point lead over ThorSport teammate Matt Crafton and the momentum from his Michigan win bode well for Sauter's chances, but so does a fresh outlook and a fast mount.
"I think Jeff's already got that truck pretty well ready to go," Sauter said of his Bristol ride. "It's pretty cool to win our first race out of the gate together, and maybe we can make it two in a row."