By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Johnny Sauter’s short run mastery didn’t panned out when it counted most during Saturday’s Ultimate Tailgating 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, finishing second to Kyle Busch, who surpassed Ron Hornaday, Jr. as the all-time winner in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
Just barely over a week into his second stint at ThorSport Racing, the series fifth-winningest driver pushed No. 13 Tendal Heal Ford F-150 to its limit throughout the mist-plagued 130-lap race, even capitalizing on Busch’s loose wheel to take the lead on Lap 54 before losing it to teammate Ben Rhodes four laps later.
Fast forward to the 89th lap, Busch had already caught up from his woes and regained the lead, but a hard charging Sauter thought of other plans and claimed the top spot on the top groove, leading five consecutive laps until the newly crowned all-time series winner regained it back from Sauter for good with 38 laps to go.
After two red flags for a multi-truck crash and mist, Sauter was in excellent position of denying Busch from scoring his 52nd Truck Series win in a five-lap shootout to the finish. However, a strong block by Busch left Sauter in a tough spot where he couldn’t match his speed at the end and had to settle for his third straight top-three Atlanta finish, none of which resulted into victories.
A disgruntled Sauter said over the radio that he blew the opportunity of getting by Busch when he left the door open. Once Sauter got out of his truck, he described how he wasn’t able to get the run to catch Busch, but remained thankful for still being in the Truck Series after it appeared that top-tier rides were obsolete once parting ways from GMS Racing during the off-season.
“I got to him and just didn’t feel like I had enough to get to the top of him,” said Sauter. “So proud of everybody at ThorSport, this Ford F-150 was good tonight and want to thank all of the guys at the shop. Thank Duke and Rhonda (Thorson) especially for giving me the opportunity to come back and race.
“I’m bummed because I thought I timed it right and I was pushing him. He was doing a good job blocking it and I just couldn’t think I could get there, but it’s a good start for us though. I’m happy for the effort, but I need little bit more. When I go back and watch the replay, I hope I’m not kicking myself in the ass for not making that move to the top. Honestly, at that point, I felt that I couldn’t get it done.”
Two races in, Sauter sits fourth in points, 38 markers behind teammate Grant Enfinger for the top spot as the series heads to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, a track Sauter knows quite fondly as it was in 2009 when he captured his first of his 23 series wins, and hopes to replicate it in Friday’s Stratosphere 200.