NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2011 NASCAR Driver Review: Johnny Sauter

Johnny Sauter

2011 Ride: No. 13 ThorSport Racing Chevrolet
2011 Primary Sponsor: SafeAuto, Carrier, Curb Records
2011 Owner: Mike Curb
2011 Crew Chief: Joe Shear Jr.
2011 Truck Series Stats: 25 starts, 2 wins, 11 top fives, 16 top 10s, 2 poles, 1 DNF, second in points

High Point: After winning the rain-shortened season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Sauter was ecstatic that he’d won two races in a single season, a feat he had been unable to accomplish since coming to NASCAR in 2001. But it was the victory in April at Martinsville Speedway that stands out for the driver of the No. 13. From the moment the Truck was unloaded, Sauter knew it would be a great weekend and he went out and proved it.

After starting on the pole, the 33-year-old easily jumped out front, but differing pit strategy from the rest of the field set him back in track position multiple times. Then, with just two laps remaining, Sauter found himself following Kyle Busch, until a nearly perfect bump-and-run got the driver of the No. 18 Toyota just loose enough to allow Sauter to take the lead as the white flag flew.

Low Point: Easy: Texas Motor Speedway in June. Prior to the WinStar World Casino 400K, Sauter had the opportunity to participate in Goodyear’s tire test at the 1.5-mile track earlier in the year, so it’s easy to see why he rolled into that weekend full of confidence in hopes of his second victory of the season. But it wasn’t meant to be. After concerns over a possible flat tire and a later worry about his fuel pressure gauge reading zero, it wasn’t either of those that cost Sauter the victory.

He had led 56 laps on the day as the field lined up for the final restart, but when the green flag flew, Sauter got loose and moved down into the low lane ahead of Ron Hornaday. Despite the existence of a small lane even lower on the track, NASCAR black-flagged the driver of the No. 13 and credited him with a 22nd-place finish as the last driver on the lead lap instead of the possible victory.

Though Sauter maintained his points lead that week, it’s easy to look back and point out this particular race as the one that cost him the big trophy in November. A victory would have awarded him 48 points but instead only 24 points were given, and when the checkered flag flew over Homestead, Sauter found himself just six points shy of grabbing the first championship for ThorSport Racing. TMS wasn’t the only reason the No. 13 wasn’t at the head table at the banquet, but those 24 points would have made a big difference come Homestead.

Summary: Sauter came into the 2011 season with high hopes of race wins and a strong run at the championship, and that’s exactly what he gave ThorSport. After a disappointing 17th-place finish in the season opener at Daytona, he quickly recovered with four consecutive top 10s, including the victory at Martinsville that propelled him to the points lead. But despite holding the top spot for 10 weeks, it just wasn’t meant to be for the No. 13 team this season.

In a field as competitive as the Truck Series was this year, the black flag at Texas coupled with two finishes outside the top 10 in the final five-race stretch proved costly for Sauter. However, a victory to close out the season helped push the mere six-point margin that gave Austin Dillon the championship out of his head. And while it wasn’t the championship Sauter and crew chief Joe Shear Jr. had in mind, there’s no reason for either to be disappointed with their team’s performance.

Team Ranking: First of three. ThorSport once again came out with their veteran drivers in Matt Crafton and Sauter, but this time they added a part-time truck for Dakoda Armstrong to earn some track time before a full-time run for Rookie of the Year next season. And though it looked like Crafton would be the top dog on the earlier in the season, bad luck for the No. 88 – four DNFs and nine finishes outside the top 15 – coupled with some great luck for the No. 13 easily put Sauter on top in the organization.

Off-Track News: Just a day after winning the Kroger 250, Sauter’s wife Cortney gave birth to their second child Paige Gertrude who weighed in at 7 pounds, 4.5 ounces. Paige joins big brother Penn Joseph who was born Jan. 13, 2010.

2012 Outlook: Prior to the Chicagoland race in September, ThorSport announced both Sauter and his teammate Crafton will be back next year, and the pair will be joined by rookie Armstrong. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be a little bit of change for Sauter. Instead of piloting the Chevrolets the team has fielded since entering the series full time in 2001, the 33-year-old will find himself behind the wheel of a No. 13 Toyota, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Toyota, who joined the series back in 2004, boasts 90 race wins, three driver championships and has won the manufacturers’ championship in five of the last six years.

2011 Frontstretch Grade: A-

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