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In a Nutshell: Johnny Sauter took the checkered flag 2.474 seconds ahead of Matt Crafton to win the Las Vegas 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway Saturday night. Sauter took the lead for the final time with 17 laps remaining and never looked back on the way to his first career Camping World Truck Series win. Jason White, Todd Bodine and Timothy Peters rounded out the top five.
Who Should Have Won: Sauter. Sauter started on the outside pole and had a strong truck throughout the night. He pulled past the series points leader on the second green-flag lap, and pulled out to about a one second lead before the second caution flew on lap 23. Though he lost several positions on pit road multiple times throughout the race, Sauter’s No. 13 Fun Sand Chevrolet was fast enough to race his way back through the field each time. He went on to lead 62 of the 146 laps on the way to his first career CWTS win.
Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race
1. What was the turning point for the No. 13 team this season?
Sauter’s rookie season got off to a rocky start after he was involved in an early wreck in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in February. Under the direction of crew chief Jason Overstreet, Sauter scored just two top-five finishes in 16 races.
Then, at Iowa Speedway in early September, Joe Shear, Jr. took over as crew chief for Sauter, and from there the performance of the No. 13 Fun Sand Chevrolet team did a complete turnaround. Prior to the running of the Lucas Oil 200, Sauter sat 14th in points after scoring his second top five finish of the season at Chicagoland Speedway the week earlier.
Since taking over as crew chief, Joe Shear Jr. has helped Sauter score four top-five finishes including his win Saturday night. Shear Jr. and Sauter worked together previously in the Sprint Cup Series, so the chemistry between the two was there almost immediately. The win Saturday night moved the driver of the No. 13 Fun Sand Chevrolet into the top five in points for the first time in his career, and Sauter has a pretty strong hold on the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings with only five races remaining this season.
The exposure Sauter has received since has been beneficial not only to him but also ThorSport Racing. While it looks like Sauter is probably a lock to go home with the Rookie of the Year honors for the 2009 season, the season isn’t over yet. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the 31-year-old driver as a threat for the win across the final five races of the season.
2. Should Aric Almirola get a full time ride next season?
Saturday night, Aric Almirola celebrated his 100th career NASCAR start, but the Las Vegas 350 was only his 44th CWTS start. Almirola raced the full season in 2006 but only scored three top 10 finishes.
During the race broadcast, Ray Dunlap reported that Billy Ballew Motorsports is working on securing enough sponsorship to allow Almirola to race full-time for the 2010 season, and he deserves it. The 25-year-old driver has split his time on the track between the No. 15 and No. 51 Toyotas fielded by Billy Ballew Motorsports this season.
In just 11 starts this season, Almirola has finished outside the top 10 in just three races, and in each of those races, he did not manage to even finish on the lead lap. Of his eight top-10 finishes, six of them have been a final position of sixth or better.
It’s clear to see that Almirola has talent on the racetrack. He could really use the seat time and exposure in the CWTS to work his way back up to the Sprint Cup Series in the future, and Billy Ballew Motorsports is just the team to give that opportunity to him. Now, all he has to do is hope the team owner can secure the funds needed for a full time schedule when the season opener rolls around in February.
Truck Rookie Report
2009 Rookie of the Year Candidates:
Chase Austin (No. 32 – on hold due to funding)
James Buescher (No. 10)
Ricky Carmichael (No. 4 – part-time, shared ride)
JR Fitzpatrick (No. 4 – part-time, shared ride)
Tayler Malsam (No. 81)
Johnny Sauter (No. 13)
No. of Rookies in the Race: 5
No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 3; Sauter, finished first; Brian Ickler, finished ninth; Malsam, finished 10th
Rookie of the Race: Sauter
Worth Noting/Points Shuffle
Sauter joined David Starr (2002) and Shane Hmiel (2004) on the list of drivers who have scored their first career CWTS win at LVMS Saturday night. Starr has scored three wins since that first victory, and Hmiel never got the chance to win another race before being permanently banned from NASCAR in February 2006 after violating the substance abuse policy three times.
Brian Scott was supposed to have his cast removed from his wrist this week, but a visit to the doctor revealed the need for the cast to remain on for at least a little while longer. Scott broke his wrist in a hard crash at Michigan International Speedway in mid-June and scored five top 10 finishes in the six races after getting his cast.
White scored his best career starting position in qualifying Saturday morning. He started and finished in the third position, which is also his best career CWTS finish.
Ron Hornaday Jr. remains the points leader, but Crafton gained a few points and now sits 197 points out of first. Mike Skinner remains in third, and Scott still sits in fourth, 245 points behind Skinner. Sauter is up two spots and rounds out the top five.
Bodine still sits in the sixth position but is only two points behind Sauter. Colin Braun dropped two spots to seventh and Rick Crawford remains in eighth. Peters’s third top-five finish this season moved him up two spots to ninth; Starr dropped one spot and rounds out the top 10.
“Unbelievable man. First and foremost I wanna thank the good Lord. I’ve been praying alot lately trying to get back to victory lane. This is very important to me. I can’t say enough about Joe Shear (crew chief) and all these guys. Duke and Rhonda Thorson, thank you so much for this opportunity. This time last year I was racing start-and-park in the Nationwide series. This truck was unbelievable. This place is awesome. I don’t even know what to say – this is awesome.” – Johnny Sauter
“Thank you Thorsport. They brought two really awesome trucks to the track this weekend. We had a pretty good truck. I felt like we had a top three truck but didn’t have the track position. It was a decent points day, but the thing that makes me happy is finishing 1-2 for Duke and Rhonda Thorson. It’s the first time we’ve finished 1-2. My truck just didn’t have the speed that Johnny’s (Sauter) truck did. Man that thing was fast.” – Matt Crafton
“Our team has worked so hard this year, and to come from where we’ve come to where we are now is pretty awesome. Not that many people know about our team, but we’re a smaller team. For us to be able to first qualify third and then to be out there and able to run with those guys (Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton) is pretty cool.” – Jason White, finished third
Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series takes almost a month off and heads to Martinsville Speedway Saturday, October 24th for the Kroger 200. In 2008, Johnny Benson took the checkered flag three quarters of a second ahead of Dennis Setzer to score his fifth and final win of the season. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate.