FORT WORTH, Texas – Johnny Sauter continued his dominant start to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season with a victory in Friday’s PPG 400 at Texas Motor Speedway.
The triumph is Sauter’s fourth victory of the year, matching a career-high for wins in a single season for the 40-year-old driver. He has only finished outside of the top-10 once so far this season.
“(We) played the track position game,” said Sauter, who has now won five times at Texas Motor Speedway in Truck Series competition. “That’s where the speeds at, getting in clean air. Wish we could have a little better racing than that, but I’m just so proud of all these guys. Everybody at GMS, thank you very much.”
Sauter didn’t flex his muscles until the third and final stage of the race. He moved into second shortly after the start of the third stage and chased early race leader Todd Gilliland until the caution flag waved for a crash on lap 107 involving Myatt Snider, Jennifer Jo Cobb and Dalton Sargeant.
During the caution period most of the leaders hit pit road, with Sauter’s team opting to just take fuel to get him off pit road first ahead of Gilliland. Chris Eggleston opted not to pit, giving him the lead for the restart over Sauter, Gilliland and Justin Haley.
The race resumed on lap 114 and Haley darted to the inside to go three-wide with Eggleston and Sauter, taking the lead in the process out of turn two. Sauter moved into second as Eggleston faded through the field.
Sauter didn’t stay behind Haley long, moving by Haley on the outside in turn one with 51 laps left to take the lead. Once out front Sauter settled in for a long run as several teams reported they were going to be short on fuel if the race stayed green to the finish.
Those fears were slightly relieved with 18 laps left when Brett Moffitt nearly crashed in turn two, resulting in a caution period. Third-place Gilliland and his Kyle Busch Motorsports teammates Noah Gragson and Spencer Davis all pitted during the caution, dropping them to the back half of the top-10.
The green flag waved with 13 laps left as Sauter held the lead over Haley and a hard charging Stewart Friesen, who started from the pole and one the first stage but had been shuffled to the back of the top-10 at the start of the third stage.
Friesen cleared Haley to take second with 12 laps left and looked to slowly be gaining on Sauter, but the final caution flag of the night waved with nine laps left for Jordan Anderson’s damaged truck, which had come to a stop in between turns three and four.
That would set up a two-lap dash to the finish with Sauter leading Friesen, Haley, Matt Crafton and stage two winner Grant Enfinger. Sauter got a good jump during the restart as Friesen fell into a battle with Haley for second.
Haley managed to briefly clear Friesen, but Friesen rebounded to quickly get the position back as Sauter flashed under the white flag. Friesen did everything he could on the final lap to chase down Sauter and he managed to get to his bumper coming out of turn four.
That was as close as Friesen could get as Sauter held to pick up the victory, the 21st NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory of his career.
“This ISM Connect Chevy, I complained about it all night long,” Sauter admitted. “Just no balance, no grip. We made great adjustments. Joe (Shear Jr., crew chief) and them guys did a great job. The pit crew was flawless as always.”
Sauter also might have been a bit tighter on fuel then even he knew during the final run to the checkered flag.
“Restarts at the end of the race, you hate it. Then going into turn three on the last lap I ran out of fuel. As I got into the banking the motor fired back up,” Sauter said. “Very, very lucky that everything worked out for us.”
Friesen matched his career-best finish with Friday’s runner-up result. He actually scored more points then race winner Sauter did thanks to finishes of first and second in the first two stages, but he came up short of the victory at the checkered flag.
“Me, Justin and Johnny raced our nuts off there at the end. That was pretty fun,” said Friesen. “We need to win one. To win races we’ve got to execute the whole race and we just can’t seem to do that for whatever reason. I love my guys, I’m proud of them and I love working with these guys. We’ll just try again next week.”
Haley ended up third after leading laps during the final stage. Enfinger was fourth with Crafton completing the top-five. Gilliland led the most laps, 62, but finished sixth ahead of Tyler Young, Cody Coughlin, Davis and Gragson.
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