When you win both races at Texas Motor Speedway in a year, and when you start out a season winning the first two races of the year, why should you be talking about “managing expectations?”
If Johnny Sauter wants to talk about winning both NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races in Fort Worth again this year, and five or six more along the way, he’s earned the right.
But that’s not his style right now.
Right now, the 35-year-old driver from Necedah, Wis., is all about “managing expectations.”
“I’m a realistic person,” he said. “No one’s going to win every race. But when you get off to the start we did, when you win the first two and you get top fives in the first four, you do think about more. But you have to manage expectations. If you have a top-four or top-five truck, you need to get a top-four or a top-five.”
There is reason for Sauter to manage expectations.
He and his ThorSport Racing team are without their crew chief for the next two races, including the WinStar World Casino 400 at TMS on Friday night. Joe Shear Jr. was suspended for four races after Sauter’s No. 98 Toyota truck was found to have an unapproved fuel cell at the Kansas race, a punishment that also docked Sauter 25 points in the driver standings.
Then, May 17 at Charlotte, Sauter was wrecked by James Buescher and wound up 28th, by far his worst finish of the year. After finishing seventh Friday at Dover, Sauter is fourth in points, 43 behind leader and teammate Matt Crafton.
The wreck and the loss of points stung. But when you’re “managing expectations,” you look at the big picture. The season is barely a quarter complete.
“He’s taking everything in stride,” ThorSport general manager David Pepper said. “Johnny is in a real good place. He comes prepared to the track. His head is on straight. He’s focused.”
That could be a tough trick for Sauter. He admits he gets “wound up” when he doesn’t win, and two years ago in the June race at TMS, he got a great chance to do just that. He was black-flagged out of a late restart, costing him a victory, and he went to his trailer furious.
Later, he admitted NASCAR made the right call. When he won in June last year, he called it “no sweeter vindication.”
That was a high.
Winning the first two races this year was a high.
Charlotte was a low.
The penalty was a low.
Sauter continues to breathe deep. Managing expectations.
“We all need to,” Pepper said of that idea. “If you go into a race and you’re totally demoralized if you lose, the highs and lows are going to be overwhelming for you.”
But at TMS, it’s natural for Sauter’s expectations to rise a little bit. Only twice has he been worse than seventh on the 1.5-mile Fort Worth oval. He has led more laps at TMS than anywhere else he has competed, and he has won more money here than anywhere else.
“No doubt, a positive attitude and positive thoughts help,” he said. “But no matter what happens, you have to manage expectations.”