Home / Beth Lunkenheimer / Tracking the Trucks: Johnny Sauter Scores 2nd 2018 Victory at Dover
(Photo: Bruce Nuttleman)

Tracking the Trucks: Johnny Sauter Scores 2nd 2018 Victory at Dover

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In a Nutshell: Early Friday evening (May 4), Johnny Sauter emerged from Dover International Speedway victorious for a second consecutive year. But this time, he had to fight hard-charging polesitter Noah Gragson to earn the trophy.

Their fender-rubbing is what everyone will be talking about in NASCAR nation for days to come. Gragson ultimately wrecked in their battle up front, triggering an overtime finish in Friday’s JEGS 200.

Sauter breezed to victory on the restart while Matt Crafton, who struggled with his truck Thursday during a pair of practice sessions, recovered to finish second. Justin Haley climbed to third after running inside the top five for much of the race, followed by owner/driver David Gilliland. Harrison Burton, who made his second start of the season, rounded out the top-five finishers.

JEGS 200 UNOFFICIAL RESULTS

Who Should Have Won: Hands down, Sauter had the truck to beat for much of the race. Polesitter Gragson was able to take advantage of using the outside lane at the start, leading the first 49 circuits. But the driver of the No. 21 Chevrolet snagged the top spot shortly after a restart following the conclusion of stage one. It was a lead he held four times for a race-high 137 laps despite beating and banging with Gragson late in the event.

Race Rundown

Heartbreak for Noah Gragson

After impressing in his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut a few weeks ago at Richmond Raceway, Gragson entered Dover with high hopes. As the weekend began, it was going quite well for the sophomore driver. He topped NXS practice early Friday and put the No. 18 Toyota on the Truck Series pole, a top spot he didn’t relinquish for 49 laps after the green flag flew.

A slow pit stop under the first stage break mired Gragson in the back part of the top 10. But his truck was plenty strong enough and he entered the top five once again in time for the end of the second stage. Fast forward to inside 20 laps to go, when a late caution allowed Gragson a shot at leader Sauter.

The pair fought mightily, swapping bumps along the way, until Gragson ultimately clipped Sauter. But the move spun Gragson out, not Sauter, sending the youngster hard into the outside wall. So despite starting on the pole and fighting for the win in the closing laps, Gragson was left to settle for a 20th-place finish.

“[I] just pushed it over the limit and I take full responsibility for what happened,” a visibly disappointed Gragson said. “Just sometimes – it’s so hard to win these things, so you give 100 percent and sometimes you cross the line when you’re in a situation like that. I was racing for the win and tried to side draft him and we hit off each other and I went around.

“It’s just hard racing – no fault to Johnny (Sauter). I respect him as a driver and that’s just a racing deal.”

For his part, Sauter claimed Gragson did exactly what he would have done in the same situation. There was no bad blood between the two as the young driver actually came into Victory Lane to talk things out.

Gragson truly learned a hard lesson in this incident about aggressive driving and the potential pitfalls that come with it. But perhaps what’s more important is the NASCAR community truly saw the passion this young racer has to succeed. If Gragson can hold onto that emotion as he moves up the ranks, the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver has a bright future ahead of him.

What Might Have Been for Brett Moffitt and Stewart Friesen

Brett Moffitt and Stewart Friesen led a pair of Truck Series practice sessions at Dover on Thursday. However, they got grouped together for a different reason shortly after the green flag flew over Friday’s race. Friesen got some help in the form of contact from David Gilliland and slid up the track, turning right across Moffitt’s nose. Both drivers were able to continue, but their trucks weren’t quite the same.

Despite damage to both trucks, Moffitt and Friesen both graced the top 10 later in the JEGS 200. But a second crash for Friesen, likely caused by a flat tire, left him tumbling to 23rd. It’s yet another example in Friesen’s Truck Series career of bad luck ruining an otherwise impressive performance.

Meanwhile, Moffitt was on the lead lap and headed toward a potential top-10 finish when an untimely pit stop right as the caution flag flew trapped him a lap behind. That’s where Moffitt remained until the checkered flag flew; he ultimately wound up 12th.

While both drivers were stopped far short of a win, it’s surprising just how competitive they were despite the early wreck. Both Moffitt and Friesen have to be walking away from Dover wondering what might have been without that early contact.

Quick Hits

  • Gragson and Sauter are running double duty at Dover this weekend. Gragson is making his third scheduled NXS start running the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Meanwhile, Sauter was tapped to pilot the No. 23 Chevrolet in place of Spencer Gallagher, who was suspended indefinitely earlier in the week for violating NASCAR’s Substance Abuse Policy.

“Tough week for the Gallagher family; this one’s for Spencer,” Sauter said in Victory Lane. “He’s a smart kid, and he’ll get it right.”

  • For the first time, David Gilliland and son Todd got the chance to run in the same race. Todd, piloting the No. 4 Toyota that he’ll take over full-time following his 18th birthday later this month, suffered a battery failure in the closing laps that left him with a disappointing 21st-place finish. David, meanwhile, left pit road first after taking two tires in the closing laps. Though he had to drop back thanks to an uncontrolled tire penalty, he made his way back to the top five to finish fourth.

  • Jesse Little made his second 2018 start at Dover. Despite the minimal number of people working on the team, he put himself in a position to fight for the lead – and take it. Little led just one lap but put himself in position for a potential career-best finish. However, that all came crashing down when he stopped on the line in his pit box, drawing a one-lap penalty for the infraction. He still ended the race ninth, an impressive top-10 performance for this underdog operation looking to run full-time with proper sponsorship.

  • After a big announcement he’d acquired equipment to have multiple trucks this season, Jordan Anderson’s next race is in question following contact from Justin Fontaine with just a handful of laps remaining. The truck, which was the one the driver of the No. 3 planned to take to Kansas, was the only one the tiny team had ready to run.

All hope is not lost for Anderson, though. He has already hatched a plan with team members that he’s hopeful will allow them to make a trip to the midwest.

Truck Rookie Report

2018 Rookie of the Year Candidates
No. 4 Todd Gilliland
No. 13 Myatt Snider
No. 25 Dalton Sargeant
No. 45 Justin Fontaine
No. 54 Bo LeMastus

No. of rookies in the race: 4

No. of rookies to finish in the top 10: 1; Todd Gilliland, finished 10th

Rookie of the Race: Gilliland

Points Update: Johnny Sauter’s victory expanded his point lead to 51 over Ben Rhodes, who sits second. Despite his crash, Noah Gragson sits just seven points back from Rhodes in third. Brett Moffitt and Grant Enfinger are tied to round out the top five.

Meanwhile, Matt Crafton sits six markers back in sixth, followed by Justin Haley. Rookies Myatt Snider and Dalton Sargeant sit eighth and ninth, respectively while Stewart Friesen rounds out the top 10.

Sauter continues to lead the way in terms of the postseason with 12 NASCAR playoff points accumulated. He already has a pair of stage wins and two victories. Moffitt is next closest with five while Gragson added another with a win in the first stage and now has three. Rhodes has two playoff points while Friesen and David Gilliland have one apiece.

CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES POINT STANDINGS

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Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series is back in action next weekend at Kansas Speedway. Last season, Kyle Busch took advantage of Ben Rhodes’ misfortune when a piece of metal went through his radiator with eight laps remaining. Coverage for the 37 Kind Days 250 begins at 8:30 p.m. ET on Friday, May 11; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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About Beth Lunkenheimer

Beth Lunkenheimer
Content Director Beth heads up management of our 30-person staff, acting as Tom’s main assistant with technology and personnel while working as Frontstretch’s Truck Series expert. The author of Truckin’ Thursdays and the coordinator of the site’s pre and post-race coverage, she also runs a periodic charity column that spotlights when NASCAR gives back. A childhood transplant to Texas, Beth is a 13-year writing veteran who has contributed content to BRANDT and Athlon Sports, among other outlets.

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