Race Weekend Central

Tracking the Trucks: 2012 WinStar World Casino 400 at Texas

In a Nutshell: Johnny Sauter took the checkered flag 2.101 seconds ahead of teammate Matt Crafton to score the victory at Texas Motor Speedway in Friday night’s WinStar World Casino 400 (June 8). Sauter led twice for just 41 laps en route to his first career victory at the mile-and-a-half track. Joey Coulter, Brendan Gaughan and Nelson Piquet Jr. rounded out the top five.

Who Should Have Won: Sauter. After waiting all day for the rains to quit falling and the track to dry, Sauter led the lone practice session late Thursday evening over teammate Crafton. Though he started deep in the field, the driver of the No. 13 Toyota worked his way to the lead just 55 laps in but dropped outside the top five by halfway.

But Sauter’s truck was so strong, he worked his way forward again, took the lead from Crafton on lap 146 and never looked back, leading the final 22 laps en route to a redeeming victory after a black flag cost him last year.

Questions You Should Be Asking After the Race

1. What does Johnny Sauter’s victory mean for ThorSport?

After starting off the year with just one top 10 in his first six starts, it looked as though if it weren’t for bad luck, Sauter would have no luck at all. But that all changed Friday night with a victory in the WinStar World Casino 400.

“All in all, great for ThorSport, the whole organization,” Crafton said of ThorSport’s one-two finish. “Everybody counted us out for switching manufacturers and that’s all we heard was, ‘You guys are stupid for switching’ because we were running so good last year. We’re back now.”

Sauter’s crew chief, Joe Shear Jr., echoed Crafton’s comments.

“Any time you can finish 1-2, it shows the equipment and the people we’ve got and how hard they work,” Shear said. “We come here with Toyota and their support and I’m proud of all the guys.”

But what does it all mean?

It’s very clear that the weight has been lifted off Sauter’s shoulders. When he walked into the media center immediately following the race, the veteran driver had a renewed bounce in his step and a big grin on his face. All of that, coupled with the change in his tone over previous weeks shows he’ll have a much better mindset heading into Kentucky in a few weeks.

For the team as a whole, it finally showed the move to Toyota wouldn’t keep them down long. Sure, any significant change in an organization will have its growing pains, but it only took seven races before they finally saw major progress. And while that’s nearly one-third of the series schedule, it’s really not all that long.

One thing is for sure, though: ThorSport isn’t done making noise this season. While Sauter is all but out of the championship battle, he’s still got another 15 races to work toward victory lane once again, and his teammate Crafton finds himself just 49 points out of the lead, a margin that may seen insurmountable but that will be helped by the momentum the team carries out of Texas.

2. Should James Buescher have been upset with Ty Dillon?

Late in the race Friday night, Ty Dillon and James Buescher found themselves in a side-by-side battle for the lead. But within a few laps, the two got together to bring out the seventh and final caution of the evening.

Though Dillon ultimately recovered for a seventh-place finish, Buescher wasn’t so lucky and brought his No. 31 Koike.com Chevrolet home 15th after leading six times for 34 laps. Following the checkered flag, Buescher went over to express his frustration with the rookie driver.

When Dillon was asked about the contact and his discussion with Buescher after the race, he took the blame for the incident.

“I was trying to win my first race, he was trying to win at Texas,” Dillon said. “I hate it happened to him. He had a great truck, I think we both had the fastest two trucks of the night. I hate I tore up trucks, but I’m not going to pull over and let somebody win. He has the right to be mad, but you know what, it’s just racing.”

But was Buescher justified in being upset?

I’m a little torn on this one simply because Dillon was correct in his assessment of the situation. The two were deep in a several-lap side-by-side battle for the lead when Dillon got loose, causing the incident that likely cost Buescher the win.

However, the action, the aggression and unwillingness to back down that both drivers showed is something the Truck Series has long been known for, and it’s truly an important characteristic that sets it apart from the Nationwide and Sprint Cup series. Had Dillon given up the lead without putting up a fight, the long-term cost would have been far greater.

Truck Rookie Report
2012 Rookie of the Year Candidates:

Dakoda Armstrong (No. 98)
Ty Dillon (No. 3)
Dusty Davis (No. 15 – not entered at Texas)
TJ Duke (No. 07 – not entered at Texas)
Ross Chastain (No. 08)
Cale Gale (No. 33)
Max Gresham (No. 24)
Paulie Harraka (No. 5)
Caleb Holman (No. 75 – not entered at Texas)
John King (No. 7 – team suspended)
Bryan Silas (No. 99)
John Wes Townley (No. 09)

No. of Rookies in the Race: 8
No. of Rookies to Finish in the Top 10: 2; Dillon, finished seventh; Cale Gale, finished eighth
Rookie of the Race: Dillon

Rookie Notes

Dillon continues to showcase his driving talent on the track. Despite tangling with Buescher late in the race, he recovered to finish a solid seventh; it marks his seventh consecutive top-10 finish. Interestingly enough, he was also the only driver to remain inside the top 10 for all 167 laps.

Gale started 16th Friday night and methodically worked his way inside the top 10 by lap 110. And while he was never a threat for the win, he had a strong enough truck to bring home a solid eighth-place finish ahead of teammate Justin Lofton, who finished ninth.

Despite running on a limited budget and hoping for sponsorship to complete the season, Ross Chastain has posted back-to-back top 20-finishes behind the wheel of his No. 08 Toyota. Having finished 15th at Dover last Friday, the 19-year-old started 23rd and worked his way up to a 16th-place result.

Despite starting deep in the field after qualifying was canceled and set by owners’ points, Dakoda Armstrong made steady progress early on Friday night, but it wasn’t meant to be for the driver of the No. 98 EverFi Toyota. An unscheduled pit stop for what felt like a flat tire put the rookie two laps down around the halfway point, however a wave-around and a late-race lucky dog allowed Armstrong to finish 18th, on the lead lap.

John Wes Townley struggled mightily all night, making several unscheduled pit stops. He hit the wall early on, bringing out the first caution just five laps in and never recovered. The driver of the No. 09 RAB Racing Toyota finished 27th, 39 laps off the pace.

Max Gresham, Bryan Silas and Paulie Harraka were all involved in wrecks Friday evening. While Gresham and Silas were able to continue following repairs and finished 21st and 25, respectively, the damage to Harraka’s truck following two different incidents was enough to force him to retire to a disappointing 28th-place finish after completing just 68 laps.

Jeb Burton was noticeably missing from the entry list this weekend and as it turns out, sponsorship is solely to blame. Dover was the young driver’s last scheduled event thanks to the sponsorship woes that have claimed so many careers.

The No. 27 Hillman Racing Chevrolet entered with Brandon Knupp behind the wheel for his first start this season but completed just two laps before retiring with ignition problems. Knupp had 23 career starts coming into Friday night’s race, however he’d only run one race to completion – his series debut in the season-opener at Daytona in 2007.

Worth Noting/Points Shuffle

The WinStar World Casino 400 featured the seventh different winner in seven races this season, a Truck Series record. Sauter joins Todd Bodine, Lofton, Buescher, Kasey Kahne, Kevin Harvick and John King on the list of this year’s victors.

Coulter scored his career-best finish on his 22nd birthday Friday night. The third-place result beat his previous best of fifth and marked his third consecutive top 10 at Texas.

The top five remains unchanged following Friday night’s race. Lofton expanded his points lead to five over Timothy Peters while Dillon remains third, 12 points back. Buescher and Kligerman round out the top five and find themselves separated by just two markers at 23 and 25 behind the leader, respectively.

Piquet moves up one position to sixth and is followed by Crafton and Coulter, who each gained two spots. Ron Hornaday Jr. dropped on spot to ninth, just one marker behind Coulter. Bodine, who dropped four positions, rounds out the top 10 and sits 60 points behind Lofton.

Quotable

“This is unbelievable. The year that we’ve had with the bad luck and to come here in the fashion that we had. There’s no sweeter vindication thank – last year was really tough to swallow. [We] had the dominant truck and to come down to a late race restarts like that and to, whatever – rules are rules and I broke a rule. To come out here this year and for qualifying to get rained out and the season we’ve had up this point, it’s been bad luck after bad luck.

“To start the race in 20th and to ultimately be able to drive to the lead and overcome some obstacles tonight, I couldn’t be prouder of Joe and all the guys at ThorSport. The driver is only a small part of the equation and that truck tonight could pretty much drive itself.” – Johnny Sauter, race winner

“It really just [upsets] me to be second three times and not have a win here because we’ve been so good. Tonight Johnny [Sauter] was the class of the field; his Tundra was really good. We fired off right there and made a small air pressure adjustment on that last run because I was just a little bit too tight in traffic.

“We made the adjustment in the right read and we got the lead and wow, she was really, really loose right there. It’s amazing what clean air does for you.” – Matt Crafton, race runner-up

Up Next: The Camping World Truck Series takes nearly three weeks off before heading to Kentucky Speedway for the UNOH 225 Thursday, June 28. Last year, Kyle Busch started at the rear of the field after missing the drivers’ meeting and took the victory over Kligerman. The race will be broadcast live on SPEED beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET; it can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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