Home / Beth Lunkenheimer / Tracking the Trucks: Johnny Sauter Scores 3rd 2018 Victory at Charlotte
(Photo: Rusty Jarrett / NKP)

Tracking the Trucks: Johnny Sauter Scores 3rd 2018 Victory at Charlotte

In a Nutshell: Johnny Sauter scored his third win in seven races this season when he beat Kyle Busch to the checkered flag by 1.34 seconds to win Friday night’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“Today we had a good truck in practice, but obviously the adjustments Joe (Shear, crew chief) and the guys made before the race just really brought it to life that extra little bit,” Sauter said. “This is probably… this IS the biggest win of my career. This is a challenging place. I’ve had a lot of good runs here and a lot of bad runs here, so this is a big one. I don’t know anyone that doesn’t want to win in our backyard. I’m just really proud of these guys tonight.”

The driver of the No. 21 Chevrolet started on the pole after qualifying was canceled due to rain then led five times for a race-high 71 laps en route to his 10th win with GMS Racing. Brandon Jones, Brett Moffitt, and Ben Rhodes rounded out the top five.

VELAT: SAUTER WINS AT CHARLOTTE

HENDERSON: SAUTER SHOWING HOW IT’S DONE AT AGE 40

Who Should Have Won: Despite never leading a lap, Kyle Busch had one of the strongest trucks out there, even though pit road miscues kept him from really showing it. The seven-time Charlotte winner lost multiple spots on pit road courtesy of slow stops. To make matters worse, he was hit with back-to-back penalties for crew members being over the wall too soon and had to restart at the tail end of the field both times.

“If my pit crew did not lose me six, seven spots and then have penalties and have to restart at the back every single time [we would have won],” Busch said after the race. “We passed the most trucks, but if you pass the most trucks, it doesn’t matter if you can’t win the thing where you need to be, restart where you need to be. Really pathetic night on pit road. These trucks are terrible in traffic. You can’t pass. Splitter game is horrendous. They want flat splitters and you put flat splitters on these things and they plow.”

That’s not to say Busch would have won if not for his troubles on pit road. But given his success at the mile-and-a-half track, it’s likely he would have been out front for a good chunk of the race. Instead, his quest for a record-tying 51st career Truck Series win waits until his final 2018 start at Pocono Raceway later this year.

Race Rundown

Todd Gilliland Finishes 10th in First Full-Time Race

Earlier this week, Todd Gilliland turned 18, which means he can now pilot the No. 4 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota full-time for the remainder of the 2018 season.

That also means Gilliland made his first mile-and-a-half start Friday night at Charlotte. Starting fourth after qualifying was rained out, the 18-year-old dropped to the back of the top 10 pretty quickly after the green flag flew, but a combination of pit road work and some impressive driving kept him inside the top 10.

“That was a huge learning experience, I mean all around from the very first lap,” he said after the race. “I think I fell back about 10 spots on the first lap. Just a different kind of racing. There’s really no way to prepare for it except to do it.

“Hopefully we can get a lot more mile-and-a-half experience from here on out. Get some consistency built into our team and hopefully just build on it, get stronger as the year goes on and I think we’ll be in contention at the end.”

Gilliland is going to be a driver to watch for the rest of the year. With just eight starts before Charlotte Friday night, seat time is going to be key for the rookie as he continues to familiarize himself with the trucks and the larger tracks the series visits. With KBM equipment on his side, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone when he’s able to contend for wins later this season.

Ben Rhodes Rebounds from Kansas Speedway Problems

Following a disappointing outing at Kansas Speedway where he suffered from fuel pickup problems, Rhodes rebounded to finish fifth Friday night. Though his truck never appeared strong enough to battle up front, the driver of the No. 41 Ford started seventh, finished the first stage 12th and moved up to sixth by the end of stage two. The fifth is Rhodes’ third top five in seven races this season.

“I feel like our Alpha Energy Solutions Ford F-150 passed about 65 trucks tonight,” Rhodes said after the race. “It was kind of disappointing. I seemed like every single time we were on the outside, we would inherit the inside. You want to be on the outside here; it was kind of like winning the lottery. If you got the outside, you’d win big. If you came to the inside line on the restart, you would lose big.

“It seemed like every single time, we were the losers. We still made it up, we still got a top-five finish today, but the restarts were absolutely crazy. It was a tough night for our guys – we fought hard. The pit crew did a great job, mechanics did a great job – we’re just going to back to the drawing board on our front package, so next time we have to pass several trucks in one race, we can do it with no contest.”

It seems like the Ford teams, in general, still have some work to do to be able to compete for wins. However, recovering from mishaps like the fuel pickup issue Rhodes faced last weekend is the kind of comeback that helps point them in the right direction. As ThorSport continues to work on its transition to a new manufacturer, I’d expect the organization to pick up more and more speed as the season works its way past the one-third mark.

Quick Hits:

  • With his third victory in the first seven races, Sauter joins an impressive list of drivers as he is now the sixth in series history to score at least three wins in the first seven events. He joins Kyle Busch (four; 2014, 2011), Matt Crafton (three; 2015), Mike Skinner (three; 2007, 1996, 1995), Ron Hornaday Jr. (three; 1995) and Ted Musgrave (three; 2001).
  • Daniel Hemric made his first Truck Series start since 2016 at Charlotte. The seventh driver to pilot the No. 20 for Young’s Motorsports this season, the NASCAR XFINITY Series driver started 16th and drove home to a quiet 21st-place finish.
  • Austin Wayne Self was forced to drop to the back of the field after wrecking his primary truck in practice. Late in the race, he was running inside the top 15 when he ended up in the outside wall, relinquishing him to a 27th-place result. Teammate Justin Fontaine didn’t fare much better as he spun and brought out the fourth caution on lap 82. The damage turned out to be enough to force Fontaine out of the race to settle for a 30th-place finish.

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: 5
No. of rookies to finish in the top 10: 1; Todd Gilliland, finished 10th

Rookie of the Race: Gilliland

Points Update: Thanks to his victory, Sauter expanded his point lead to 59 over Noah Gragson. Brett Moffitt is third, just six markers out of second. Rhodes and Grant Enfinger round out the top five. Crafton is sixth, followed by Stewart Friesen. Justin Haley, Dalton Sargeant and Myatt Snider round out the top 10.

Sauter has a stronghold on playoff points this season with 17. His next closest competition is Gragson, who has 10. Moffitt has six, thanks to scoring his first stage win Friday night, while Rhodes has two. Friesen and David Gilliland have one playoff point apiece.

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Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series takes a couple weeks off before heading to Texas Motor Speedway. Last season, Christopher Bell led a race-high 92 laps en route to a narrow victory over Chase Briscoe under caution following Timothy Peters‘ dramatic flip down the frontstretch. Coverage for the winstartonlinegaming.com 400 begins Friday, June 8 at 9 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1; the race can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

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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