While the Cup teams were at Pocono, the NASCAR Camping World Truck series drivers were at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend for the WinStar World Casino 400 acting as a companion race to the IZOD IndyCar Series which runs the Firestone 550k on Saturday night.
With the Cup drivers others preoccupied elsewhere, it gave Johnny Sauter the perfect opportunity to lay to rest the ghosts of 2011 when he was set for a shoot-out to the chequered flag with Ron Hornaday Jr. only to get black-flagged for changing lane too soon and sent to the back of the field - finishing a bitterly disappointing 22nd that time.
"Last year was really tough to swallow coming down to a late-race restart, but I broke the rules," said Sauter, who added that it made this year's win all the greater for him. "There's no sweeter vindication," he beamed this time around when he made it into victory lane. "This one is going to rank right up there."
After qualifying had been washed out and the starting order set by owner points, championship leader Justin Lofton had led from pole position for the first 26 laps. James Buescher and Ty Dillon then took over vying for the lead for a while and it wasn't until lap 51 after third caution of the day that Sauter led for the first time.
The 167-lap two-hour race saw seven cautions resulting in 32 laps run under yellow. Two of those were for debris, while a third was for fluid on track from the broken oil pump of Todd Bodine on lap 33. There was a third caution on lap 47 for an involving Paulie Harraka and Rick Crawford, after which Sauter was able to take the lead. Harraka was able to continue from that incident but was then involved in a second accident that also caught up Max Gresham, and a slow pit stop under the ensuing caution dropped Sauter back to 9th.
Series rookie Bryan Silas also spun out on the backstretch on lap 129 to bring out another caution - catching out Justin Lofton who was on pit lane at the time - while the final yellow came on lap 139 sparked by slight contact between Ty Dillon and James Buescher while the two were contesting the lead put the latter into the wall at turn 1.
That late final caution put Dillon into recovery mode (he finished 7th) and Buescher down in a disappointing 15th place by the chequered flag. Moreover it left Matt Crafton in the lead at the restart with Johnny Sauter just behind him on the second row in fourth when the green flag came out, giving Sauter all the incentive he needed to make sure that he followed the rules, nailed the restart and took the lead two laps later, maintaining that position to the finish to claim his fifth series win.
The victory is not before time, after a string of ill fortune and poor finishes so far in 2012 meant that he hadn't even led a lap this year until Friday. "The way this season's gone has been very trying. I'm trying to keep everything in perspective," he said. "The season we've had this year has been bad luck after bad luck."
So what was different at Texas? Sauter gave the credit to his ThorSport pit crew and to crew chief Joe Shear
"The driver's only a small part of the equation. That truck could pretty much drive itself," Sauter insisted. "This track really puts an emphasis on handling. We just hit the setup right. Joe did a great job; right off the truck we were at the top of the board. We passed a million trucks, it seemed like tonight."
If Sauter's hoping that it will kick-start his 2012 championship campaign, then he had something of a mountain to climb: he's still 90pts off the leader Justin Lofton, who struggled back to 9th place after getting caught out in the pits during the penultimate caution to preserve a 5pt lead over Timothy Peters in the Truck series standings.
Full race results and practice times
available along with NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship standings