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SAUTER WINS JAG METALS 350, ADVANCES TO TRUCK SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP 4
By John Sturbin
FORT WORTH, Texas (November 3, 2017)
Reigning NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Johnny Sauter captured Friday night’s JAG Metals 350 Driving Hurricane Harvey Relief at Texas Motor Speedway to punch his ticket into the Championship 4 for a second consecutive year.
Next up, diaper duty?
“Oh yeah. I’m used to it,” said Sauter, who celebrated the birth of his fourth child and third daughter, Alice, on Wednesday. “I’ve now got four kids aged 7, 6, 2 and brand new. Everybody’s healthy, and I’ve been blessed.”
Sauter drove like a man possessed around TMS’ high-banked, 1.5-mile oval, holding off Austin Cindric for the victory in the 19th annual JAG Metals 350 Driving Hurricane Harvey Relief. Sauter scored his fourth career NCWTS victory here and second consecutive in the November race. Driver of the No. 21 ISMConnect Chevrolet Silverado, Sauter finished 0.170 of a second ahead of Cindric and his No. 19 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Ford F-150.
Rounding out the top three after 147 laps and 220.5 miles was Oklahoma native Christopher Bell, who began the night three points ahead of Sauter and exited his “home track” four points (3,135-3,131) in front of his title rival with two races remaining.
Next up, déjà vu?
“As much as I want to sit up here and tell you yes, I’m a realist and know that you have to execute,” Sauter said. “So yes, this is looking a lot like it did last year, shaping up like it is. Honestly, this is our third win, but I feel like we should have six or seven right now. We’ve got to be humble and stay nose to the grindstone, so to speak. You can’t let your guard down. We’re bringing our best piece. GMS as an organization is going to bring our best truck down there (HMS) but so is everyone else. You got to be prepared for that. I think if you sit back and say, ‘Oh, we’re in great shape here,’ that’s not the case.
“We need to go to Phoenix (next weekend) and try to win the race and go to Homestead with guns blazing and try to do what we did last year. But don’t think for a second everybody else isn’t thinking the same way we are.”
Cindric’s performance here left him fourth and at the cutoff line for the Championship 4 on Friday, Nov. 17, at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He is 50 points behind Bell, but only 19 behind two-time series champion Matt Crafton in third. Crafton is 31 points behind Bell.
“Personally, it’s my best 1.5-mile race to date,” said Cindric, who drives for Cup regular Brad Keselowski. “And how we worked through the weekend and adjusted the truck, I’m proud of my guys. I think it was youth vs. experience and experience won in more ways than one. Johnny taught me a few things. I’m excited to try to get to the Championship 4 for BKR.”
Sauter completed the race-winning pass on Lap 135 on the outside through Turns 1 and 2, which are banked at 20 degrees. Turns 3 and 4 are banked at 24 degrees, the strongpoint of Cindric’s game tonight.
“I was trying to time my run for the second-last lap or the last lap because I knew he could hang on the outside of me,” said Cindric, who posted his first top-10 finish in two races at TMS. “I was hoping for lapped traffic so I could at least get a nose-up on him, but it’s very hard to figure out a way because it’s easy with that dogleg to block. If you watched how Johnny passed me for the lead at the beginning of Stage 3, that’s the only way you’re going to do it.”
Crafton finished eighth in his No. 88 Ideal Door/Menards Toyota after rallying from a pit road penalty during the Stage 2 break. Playoff contender Ben Rhodes finished 18th in his No. 27 Safelite Auto Glass Toyota and is fifth in points, 55 behind Bell. Finally, John Hunter Nemechek ran out of gas while leading on Lap 135 in an attempt to steal the victory. Nemechek, driver of the No. 8 ROMCO Equipment/Fire Alarm Services Chevy, finished 19th and is 89 points behind Bell and 34 behind Rhodes.