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The veteran Truck Series driver won at Daytona after a letdown last season.
Sunday, April 7, 2013
MARTINSVILLE — Johnny Sauter began the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season in style, winning the 2013 opener at Daytona International Speedway.
That was Feb 22.
Sauter hasn’t won since. Of course, it’s not like he has had the chance.
After five weekends of no racing, the truck series finally reconvenes for Round Two of the 2013 campaign with the running of today’s Kroger 250 at Martinsville Speedway.
Sauter’s Daytona win — while certainly good for team morale and early-season points positioning — feels like a long time ago for the truck series veteran.
“I don’t know if anybody remembers or not. I’ve tried not to,” said a half-joking Sauter. “It’s just yesterday’s news, you know? It’s cool, obviously, to start out the year on such a high note, but five weeks is a long time to let things pass by.”
Sauter qualified fourth for today’s race. South Boston native Jeb Burton — son of former Cup driver Ward Burton — will start from the pole.
While eager to get back to racing, Sauter is thankful to have begun the year with a victory. As truck wins go, one at Daytona — the birthplace of NASCAR — is as big as it gets. Sauter knows all too well how it feels to leave the World Center of Racing in a points hole — and with a torn-up truck.
That happened to him in 2012, when he was taken out on the final lap. As circumstances would have it, the Daytona wreck set the tone for Sauter’s entire season — one riddled with crashes, mechanical gremlins and enough bad breaks to give the preseason title favorite his worst points finish in four seasons.
Sauter’s failure to contend for the 2012 title, or even crack the top five in the final standings a year after finishing a close runner-up in points to Austin Dillon, served as motivation for this season.
“It got us down and everything, but we knew that every time we went to a racetrack we were capable of winning, so we always went with that mentality,” said crew chief Joe Shear Jr. “We really think we can win every time we go to the racetrack, so that’s what we think and that’s how we go.”
Even if this year’s Daytona triumph does feel like a distant memory, Sauter is glad to have begun the season on solid footing.
“It’s no different than building a house,” he said. “You better have a strong foundation, and our foundation is essentially the start of the season and kind of how you get out of the gate. So it’s super-important. I’m ecstatic right now to know that we started off the year, not only with a win, but [also with] a truck in one piece, and we got points and everything’s good. But I’m also a realist and know that we’ve got a long way to go and anything can happen.”
The truck series’ lengthy layoff now over, there is no place Sauter would rather return to action than Martinsville, a .526-mile track that the Wisconsin native considers a personal favorite.
Sauter went to Victory Lane here in the spring 2011 race with his Sandusky, Ohio-based ThorSport Racing team, and ran well in both of last year’s Martinsville’s races before being snake-bitten with mechanical woes.
Aside from being confident about his chances for another Martinsville win, Sauter is fond of the paperclip-shaped oval for another season: His victory here two years ago was followed by the birth of his daughter, Paige, two days later.
The fancy grandfather clock that Sauter took home for winning at Martinsville symbolizes more than just a victory.
“When you look at the grandfather clock, it reminds you of your daughter being born,” he said. “It’s a really special thing to not only have a child, but to have her on a weekend where you won. That doesn’t happen very often.”
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