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ThorSport's 'dream season' could improve on road

August 30, 2014, Kristen Boghosian, NASCAR.com

Johnny Sauter
Team's test serves them well at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

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BOWMANVILLE, Ontario, Canada -- When the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series rolled in to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park for the first time last year, drivers weren't sure what to expect from the track. ThorSport Racing's Johnny Sauter was looking to rebound from three finishes of 19th or worse in four races, a streak that sent him out of the top five in standings. Teammate Matt Crafton hoped to tighten his hold on the series points lead.

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The 2.459-mile road course didn't play well with those plans. Sauter suffered from a gas line issue, completing just 34 of the race's 64 laps. Crafton fought for a 10th-place finish, only to have standings runner-up James Buescher narrow his deficit.

Things are a little different this year. Sauter is the one in the lead now, with Crafton eight points behind him. Their third teammate, Jeb Burton, has a steady hold on 10th in points. And they know what to expect.

"We were really off where we needed to be last year, but we have a pretty good grasp of where we need to be this year," Crafton said. "We actually got the opportunity to go shake our truck down at a little road course up in Ohio on Monday, so I think we will be ready to put on a good show in Canada this weekend."

With all three ThorSport drivers looking for redemption in their return to the track, that show may become one of in-fighting after strong practice results across the board, a result of both having raced at the track before and setups fine tuned during a test at Nelson Ledges Road Course, a 2-mile track an hour east of Cleveland.

"There's a couple of turns there that are really long right hand corners, very similar to what you have here, but this place is unique to itself, it's so fast, its really hard to find a place to test for a place like this," Sauter said of the session. "So I think from a driver's perspective, you just try to go there and just get familiar with turning right and left and shifting and braking, and just doing all those things.

"The setup was a little bit different than what we ran here last year, so I think those were a couple things we were trying to play with a little bit, figure those things out, and I think the truck handles good, I just need to figure out how to go a little faster."

Though Sauter is admittedly not the strongest driver off the paved ovals, his improvement at Eldora and so far in Canada show he's becoming more comfortable at non-conventional tracks. He finished 29th at the dirt track last year after a crash on Lap 120 of 153, and followed that up with an eighth-place finish in his return to Eldora this year. If he can build on last year's experience at CTMP, another strong result could be the reward for his eighth national series road course start.

"I didn't think I was the greatest and I still don't think I'm the greatest road racer, but I've had some decent days on road courses in the past, so if we unload pretty decent, then I think we'll be in good shape," Sauter said.

With an 11th-place starting position, Sauter improved last year's qualifying result by five spots. Crafton will start in eighth and Burton qualified 17th.

Somewhat removed from his teammates' battle for the points lead, Burton's results have been quietly hinting he's a contender in this weekend's Chevrolet Silverado 250. Last season, he took on a double duty weekend to gain extra laps in his first trip to the track.

"2013 was my first time on a road course, and after running the Canadian Tire race prior to the Truck Series race, I felt like I had a good grasp on the track," he said. "Overall I believe I did pretty well. I had a top-five truck, but unfortunately I went laps down early when I had to go behind the wall for my team to fix a broken transmission. I feel like if we didn't have that issue, I could have put up a fight."

Burton was the fastest ThorSport driver in the early practice session and the only one in the top 10 with the fifth-fastest speed of the morning. Crafton was 11th-fastest and Sauter 13th-fastest. Roles reversed in the final session, with Crafton and Sauter finishing seventh and 10th respectively, and Burton 12th. In the points standings, Burton is 94 points back from Sauter. Crafton, eight points back from the leader, can strike at any time -- something his teammate is aware of, if not happy about.

"I'll be honest with you: If I can't win the championship, I want my teammate to win it," Sauter said. "You know, it's obviously for ThorSport. Having said all that, you still want to win the championship, and nobody wants to win it more than I do, but it's going to be tight all the way down to the wire.

"If you're a team owner like Duke and Rhonda Thorson, this is your dream season. ... We're just going to race each other hard, and whoever comes out on top comes out on top. My mentality is, at the end of the day, if you can look back and say, 'Hey, I gave it 100 percent, did all I could,' and you come up short, you come up short."

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