NASCAR Truck: Johnny Sauter locks-up final four spot with Martinsville win
Johnny Sauter takes the checkered flag in the Texas Roadhouse 200 at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 29, 2016 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).
By AMANDA VINCENT
Johnny Sauter claimed his second win of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season on Saturday with a victory in the Texas Roadhouse 200 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway. His latest win locked him into the championship four for the season-finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, with the Martinsville race being the first race of the round of six in the inaugural chase for the Truck Series.
“I feel like it was one of the smartest races I’ve ever ran,” Sauter said. “People don’t accuse me of being very smart a lot of times. I just kept trying to take care of it. I just kept riding in third and kept trying to save them (tires). Then, I knew with 40 to go, I could do what I needed to.”
Sauter led a total of 50 laps, taking his second and final lead of the race on lap 176.
Chase Elliott started on the pole and led 109 laps, just over half of the 200-lap race, en route to a runner-up finish in his 10th-career Camping World Truck Series start, but his first since his lone season of series competition, a nine-race part-time effort in 2013.
“Looking back, I wish I would have done something a little bit different,” Elliott said. “I got loose off (turn) two coming to the checkered, and that was probably my opportunity to try to get him. You have to be careful, because those guys are racing for a championship. For me, some days, it’s just not worth making a mistake or wrecking a guy.”
John Hunter Nemechek finished third after a two-tire strategy during a second-half-of-the-race yellow flag got him up front, while Christopher Bell and Timothy Peters rounded out the top-five to join Sauter in putting three of the remaining six chase drivers in the top-five of the Martinsville finishing order.
For Peters, the top-five finish was a hard-fought battle. He started 19th and ran in that neighborhood through the first half of the race. He was in the top-15 after a restart following a lap 109 yellow flag. He cracked the top-10 by lap 122. He restarted the race seventh with 18 laps to go, and on that last restart, he finally made his way into the top-five.
“Good truck, good pit crew, good spotter and just great effort by everyone on this Red Horse Tundra,” Peters said. “We didn’t have the truck that we wanted, by any means, but we kept adjusting on my Tundra all race long. The pit crew got me track position, and it was left up to me to cap off the rest. If we couldn’t get the win, the top-five was definitely what we needed. Just glad to come out of here from 19th to fifth. We’ll build on this and go to Texas.”
A fourth chaser, William Byron, finished in the top-10 in eighth, while two other chase drivers — Matt Crafton and Ben Kennedy — wound up outside the top-15 at the checkered flag. Crafton finished 17th after struggling with a brake problem throughout the race, and Kennedy ended up just behind him in 18th.
Crafton fell off the lead lap as he sat on pit road with the hood up on his truck during a lap 149 caution, but he got back on the lead lap during the final yellow flag of the race on lap 176. That fifth and final caution was brought out by Kennedy, who spun after contact from Ben Rhodes. After his spin, Kennedy was struck by John West Townley.
“He (Rhodes) just wrecked us, plain and simple,” Kennedy said. “He gave us a headache all day. He tried to wreck us earlier, and he failed at it. It’s really unfortunate. We’re racing here for the chase. If he wanted to race me that way, then I’m going to race him back that way.”