TALLADEGA, Ala. – As a shocked Spencer Boyd pulled into victory lane Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway, Johnny Sauter stood on pit road in equal disbelief that his apparent win had been stripped.
Sauter initially crossed the finish line first in Saturday’s Sugarlands Shine 250, but was demoted to 14th place – the last truck on the lead lap – by penalty after NASCAR officials determined that he forced Riley Herbst below the double-yellow “out-of-bounds” line in the tri-oval coming to the checkered flag.
Instead of celebrating his second triumph of the season, Sauter was left empty for his efforts.
“It ain’t the first win that NASCAR’s taken from me,” the 2017 Truck Series champion told FS1 in the moments after climbing from his truck.
The penalty assessed to Sauter came after Herbst got a run in turn four on the last lap of Saturday’s overtime-extended Truck Series event, luring Sauter to the high side before taking his momentum to the bottom lane of the 2.66-mile race track.
As Sauter tried to come down and keep Herbst at bay, the two made contact and Herbst ended up with all four tires on the apron of the track as Sauter continued his defense.
Sauter went on to take the checkered flag, celebrate with a burnout and was even handed the flag by a NASCAR official before competition officials made the announcement over the radio that initial second-place Spencer Boyd was, in fact, the official winner.
“I was surprised (by the call), yeah,” Sauter told SPEED SPORT in the garage. “Initially, when I started to squeeze him off there a little bit, I got hooked sideways a little bit … and at that point at 190 miles an hour, people don’t understand that you’re just at the mercy of the guy behind you and how hard he’s pushing. It’s (part of) plate racing. I didn’t block his advance or anything. It’s just the way it is, though. I mean, we’ll live to race another day, I guess.
“I just hate it for all my guys,” Sauter noted. “They’re the ones that bust their butts and deserve these wins, them and Duke and Rhonda Thorson. Me personally, I could give a rat’s ass (about the win), but those people deserve it.”
Sauter held no ill will toward Herbst for the last-lap battle and its ultimate result, however. It was NASCAR’s officiating crew at whom Sauter directed his ire following the conclusion of the race.
“He (Herbst) was doing what he needed to do, and I was doing what I thought I needed to do. Rules just get in the way of good racing sometimes,” Sauter noted. “I don’t know; you’d think NASCAR would pay attention, but what the hell do I know? I’ve only been racing for 20 years. People come to see a good race and in my opinion, that was a good race. But rules are rules and I guess I broke the rules.
“That’s just the way it goes sometimes. I did what I thought was right.”
On the other side of the field after the race was Herbst, who was quick to note his pleasure that NASCAR stepped up and took the win away from Sauter after his blocking maneuver on the final lap.
He also noted that, from his position, there wasn’t any more that he could have realistically done differently in the final half-mile.
“I mean, I could have absolutely stayed in the throttle and wrecked the whole field, but I didn’t think that was necessary,” explained Herbst. “Tony Hirschman (spotter) put me in a good spot. He gave me a huge run off of (turn) four and I faked (Johnny) Sauter to the high side and he bought it. Then when I went to the bottom, he drove me all the way to the grass.
“I’m glad NASCAR made the right call there. I’m bummed that he did drive me in the grass, because I feel like we could’ve ended up in victory lane for sure,” Herbst added. “All in all, it was a good day for the (No.) 51 Tundra. I’m happy with the result.”
Herbst expanded on his thoughts regarding the decision, calling the outcome “fair” given his situation.
“What made it fair is that if anybody else did it, they should go to the back too,” explained the 18-year-old Las Vegas native. “You can’t force somebody below the yellow line. I had position on him and he drove me all the way to the grass through the tri-oval, and he didn’t … he didn’t win that race.
“If I didn’t win that race, he definitely did not win that race.”
Sauter’s penalty on Saturday was similar in nature to one that was handed to Regan Smith in October of 2008 at the end of the fall Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega, after Smith and Tony Stewart were involved in a similar situation coming to the checkered flag.
Stewart was declared the winner, while Smith was dropped to the tail of the lead lap for “passing below the yellow line” on that particular afternoon.
Notably, Smith had his own opinion of the finish and NASCAR’s interpretation of the rules on Saturday.
— Regan Smith (@ReganSmith) October 12, 2019
The NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series returns to action Oct. 26 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway.