Trucks: Sauter wins, but Dillon champion
19 November 2011
Johnny Sauter won the Ford 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series 2011 season finale on the intermediate 1.5-mile oval Homestead-Miami Speedway on Friday evening, but it wasn't enough to allow him to beat Austin Dillon for the series championship.
Dillon held on to finish just 6pts ahead of Sauter in the standings, becoming the youngest driver to claim the title (at 21) and also the first driver to win the title the season after also clinching the rookie of the year accolade.
"You can't go out of the Truck Series any better than this," said Dillon, who is moving to a full-time Nationwide Series seat in 2012. "How does it feel? Amazing, best feeling I've ever had in my entire life! ... It's going to be a wonderful week, a wonderful month.
"The championship ... it's amazing. You get to spray champagne everywhere. You're on top of the world. It's the best feeling in the world!"
Sauter was trying to put on a brave face at narrowly missing out on the title. "It's a huge accomplishment, coming out here and doing what we needed to do," he insisted, but admitted: "six points is a bummer.
"You can think back on the season: dominating Kentucky, broke an axle, 20 to go, leading the race; ORP [Indianapolis], leading the race, flat tire; the lane violation at Texas, 22 points; six points at Pocono. You can go down the list, but everybody can. That's just racing."
Ultimately rain played a big part in the evening's proceedings, causing an early finish having already washed out the qualifying runs earlier on Friday afternoon. That had left James Buescher and Ty Dillon on the front row for the start of the evening race, based on earlier practice times and car owner points.
Buescher led for the first eight laps, but lost the lead to Kevin Harvick at the first restart after a caution for oil on track. Buescher reclaimed the lead shortly after a second caution on lap 21 - a pre-scheduled competition caution to allow teams to check the condition of their trucks after all the earlier rain.
An accident involving German Quiroga and Max Gresham in turn 4 on lap 31 brought out the next caution, which allowed Sauter and Elliott Sadler to vie for the lead before Sadler emerged on top and led for the next 30 laps. Then after the next sequence of green flag pit stops cycled through, Sauter emerged out in front and led from lap 80 through to the end of the race - when NASCAR had to call it because of the return of the rain on lap 119.
That gave Sauter his second race win in 2011 and his fourth victory in 86 Truck starts, ahead of Denny Hamlin in second and Kevin Harvick who took third despite spinning when exiting pit lane after contact with Buescher. Sauter also took the bonus point for leading the most laps with 44 laps out in front in total. He had done quite literally everything that he could possibly do to overhaul Austin Dillon in the Truck Series championship.
But it was not enough: Dillon played a conservative race during the early part of the evening and lurked safely in the lower top ten, before working his way up to second behind Sauter by lap 98 when the #93 of Ross Chastain brought out the fourth yellow of the night with a spin in turn 2.
If Dillon was looking for a nice cruise to the finish from here to clinch the title, he didn't get it: the final 18 laps of green flag running were to prove highly stressful ones for him, after his right front fender got bent in threatening both handling and an outright flat tyre that would have ended his title bid.
"I don't know how it happened," said Dillon of his fender issue. "I didn't hit anybody on the track, but I think it happened on pit road ... We got really tight when the fender got knocked in. I think it was close really with the fender, but the rain came at the right time."
Dillon dropped all the way back to 15th place at one point in the closing laps, putting him at risk of handing the title to Sauter. But despite concerns that his tyre was going down and even that the engine was starting to falter, Dillon pushed the #3 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet back up to tenth place which was enough to secure the championship by a slender 6pts over Sauter.
"It's so special when you're family," said team owner Richard Childress. "Our whole family is involved, and I remember the very first championship with Dale Earnhardt. I had the same feeling tonight watching Austin, my grandson. It's just so special to have the family and know how hard all of them worked."
"I'm so happy for my grandfather," added Dillon. "He's got two champs this year. I'm worried about Ty coming back and beating me for the youngest champion ever. He's pretty awesome."
Richard Childress Racing's Joey Coulter clinched the 2011 rookie of the year title even though he finished in fifth place just behind one of his main rival for the title, Nelson Piquet Jr.
"It has been a great season racing with Cole Whitt, Nelson Piquet, Parker Kligerman and Miguel Paludo," he said. "It was really cool to be in such a competitive battle because it makes the award more significant. It means more to win against the people I raced with all season knowing how talented they are. They are awesome competitors and it means a lot to me."
Coulter will be hoping that he can follow the example of last year's rookie of the year all the way to the 2012 season championship - although as Austin Dillon pointed out, the Childress family will be equally determined to extend the family franchise with a title for Ty Dillon next year, too.