Johnny Sauter likes Texas, and Texas likes Johnny Sauter: his only win so far in the 2012 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series had come at Texas Motor Speedway, and he repeated the feat on Friday night to beat Parker Kligerman to the chequered flag.
"It's been a season of peaks and valleys, for sure," said Sauter in victory lane after the race. "We've just had a lot of bad luck this year, quite frankly." The ThorSport Racing was runner-up in 2011 but has slumped to ninth place in the standings this year - but at least has his two wins in Texas to take pride in.
Sauter's win was nearly undone when Parker Kilgerman took the lead after the final round of pit stops by opting for two tyres only - a late call that even caught out his own crew, who didn't realise what the plan was until after they'd jacked up the left side of the car for tyres that weren't coming, a miscommunication that cost Kilgerman valuable seconds under the green flag conditions, but which was still good enough to get Kilgerman out in front.
"I looked up, and he was pretty far out there, and I was like, 'Oh, boy,'" said Sauter of the moment he realised Kligerman's tactic. "I just made sure I didn't screw up getting off pit road. I thought we had a pretty good lead," he admitted. "They said, you're racing the #30 [Piquet] for the lead. Then I got by him, and they were like no, it's the #7 [Kligerman]."
Even so, he felt that he was on the surer strategy: "I knew that, with as much time as there was left in the race - 20 or 25 laps - I didn't think [deciding on two tyres only] prevail," he said. "I just knew it was a matter of time. As fast as we reeled him in, I just figured there was plenty of time."
He was right, and on his four new tyres he was able to reel in the #7 and blast past him on lap 137 with 10 laps remaining. He pulled out a lead of almost three seconds and while this reduced to a little over two by the time the chequered flag came out, there was no danger of Sauter not succeeding in sweeping Texas.
Nelson Piquet Jr. had looked the strongest driver going into the race after sweeping the practice sessions and then putting the #30 into pole position. Piquet led for the first 35 laps but was then deposed by James Buescher at the front during the first round of pit stops, and then returned to the front for another long stint on the 1.5-mile high-banked quad-oval circuit to eventually claim the bonus point for most laps led with 65 laps on top. Ultimately his tyres faded toward the end of the third stint and left him easy pickings for Sauter to pass ahead of the final round of pit stops, but he held on to third place over Kyle Busch who was having to recover from some early electrical issues.
At an average speed of 154.737 mph and a race duration a shade over 85 minutes, this was the fastest race in Truck Series history, partly thanks to there being only two cautions for the entire 147-lap race: Ryan Blaney crashed on lap 31 to bring out the first caution, while fluid on the track was responsible for the second on lap 66.
The result leave the championship standings unchanged, with Ty Dillon's fifth place finish enough to trim James Buescher's 21pt lead coming into this weekend to 15pts after Buescher came home in 11th place.
He'd been leading up until the final caution of the race, but some jostling which started with Cale Gale spinning his tyres forcing Piquet to check up ended with Buescher getting hit from behind by Matt Crafton which bumped him into the back of Piquet's truck during the second restart on lap 70, leaving Buescher complaining of some vibration for the rest of the race.
"It was bumper cars from there and got too much damage," said Buescher. "The truck got really tight and couldn't turn and couldn't run the bottom.
"I thought we were controlling our own destiny tonight," he sighed. "We were in some close quarters racing at times and led some laps and had a fast track, so you can control your own destiny but you can't control what everybody else is doing."
"It could have been worse," he pointed out. "We didn't want to put ourselves in any bad spots but we got put in bad spots and we came out with the lead [in the championship], so I don't think you can blame that kind of stuff for what happened. We had a bunch of damage and never caught a caution the rest of the night to fix it, and never caught a break."
Parker Kligerman pulls up to just 2pts off third-placed Timothy Peters with just two more races remaining in the season.
Full race results, plus qualifying and practice
speeds and full Truck Series championship standings