In the Chase for the Truck Series title, Johnny Sauter has declared loud and clear that he’s planning to play hard to get with his No. 21 Chevrolet.
Sauter seized the Chase momentum by winning the first two races of the second round of the championship postseason, on Friday overtaking Matt Crafton around the outside in the final five laps to claim his second consecutive victory in NASCAR’s Camping World Trucks Series Striping Technology 350 at Texas Motor Speedway.
The victory was the third of the season and a series-record 17th top 10 in 2016 for Sauter, who by winning last week had already clinched a berth in the Championship 4 in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Friday marked career-victory No. 10, including three at TMS. The Wisconsin native has 13 top-10 finishes in 17 races at TMS.
“We’re peaking at the right time,” said Sauter, who started 16th and led only six laps. “But we need to peak here in a couple of weeks when it really, really counts at Homestead. We’ve been very consistent all year and I think people have overlooked that.
“Tonight, I was able to throw caution to the wind. I didn’t care. I told myself ‘you drive this as hard as you can. If you wreck it, you wreck it.’ It’s kind of cool to have that confidence. I think that’s the mentality you’ll need coming into Homestead.”
Five drivers — in order of series standings, William Byron, Christopher Bell, Crafton, Timothy Peters, and Ben Kennedy — are vying for the final three spots in the championship round. Five points separate them.
“I’m not worried about the chase,” said Crafton, back-to-back series champion in 2013-14 who last won in May in North Carolina. “I’m worried about winning races. The chase will take care of itself.”
Pole-sitter Spencer Gallagher had the best car in the field, leading 88 of the race’s 147 laps, but trouble in the pits relegated him to a seventh-place finish.
After Crafton, in a Toyota, were Daniel Hemric, Tyler Reddick, and Daniel Suarez.
Sauter admitted that he was motivated to catch Crafton in the final laps in hopes of putting more pressure on him entering next week.
“Matt was content to stay at the bottom. I was surprised by that, it gave me the whole top,” said Sauter, who won at TMS in the summer and fall races in 2012. “It was cool to keep him from winning, there’s no doubt about it because if he has any trouble in Phoenix we might not have to race him for the championship in Miami.”
Byron, who was competitive but never led Friday, crossed the finish line in sixth.
“I’m fired up, I’m not going to lie,” Sauter said. “I have a lot of confidence in what we’re doing. We’re going to do everything we can. I’m going to drive it as hard as I can.”