Sauter passed ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton on Lap 146 of 167 and rolled to victory by a margin of 2.101 seconds in the 16th annual WinStar World Casino 400K. Sauter, who hadn’t led a race since the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway in February, decisively snapped a string of three consecutive finishes of 24th or worse.
Sauter’s shot at the win here last year went awry when he was black-flagged for moving out his lane before reaching the start/finish line on a late-race restart opposite Ron Hornaday Jr. While Hornaday celebrated his third career victory at TMS, Sauter retreated to his trailer after placing 22nd.
“There’s no sweeter vindication,” said Sauter, driver of the No. 13 Toyota Tundra co-owned by Mike Curb, and Duke and Rhonda Thorson. “Last year was really tough to swallow coming down to a late-race restart, but I broke the rules. The season we’ve had this year has been bad luck after bad luck. I couldn’t be prouder of (crew chief) Joe Shear and the guys at ThorSport. The driver’s only a small part of the equation. That truck could pretty much drive itself.”
Sauter credited Shear’s setup with allowing him to lead on two occasions for 41 laps, 14 fewer than championship leader Justin Lofton.
“Setups . . . I’ve come here and been humbled when I’ve left, it was so bad,” said Sauter, a 34-year-old native of Necedah, Wis., with Texas ties. “Grandma lives 20 miles down the road up there in Dallas, and I get to go there and eat chicken n’ dumplings once a year. This track really puts an emphasis on handling. We just hit the setup right. Joe did a great job; right off the truck we were at the top of the board. We passed a million trucks, it seemed like tonight.”
Sauter scored his fifth career victory in his 93rd start at an average speed of 123.925 mph, while Crafton posted his 12th top-10 finish in 23 races at TMS. Crafton’s third top-10 finish of 2012 marked the second 1-2 result for ThorSport, based in Sandusky, Ohio.
“Anytime you can finish 1-2 it shows the equipment and the people we’ve got, how hard they work,” said Shear, who oversaw the team’s offseason switch from Chevrolet Silverado sheet metal to the Tundra. “We come here with Toyota and their support and I’m proud of all the guys.”
Sauter’s first victory of 2012 was his second top-10 of the season and sixth top-10 result on TMS’ 1.5-mile quad-oval.
“Every win is special, and I’ve been fortunate to win some very cool races in the truck series,” said Sauter, the 2009 Rookie of the Year. “This one is going to rank right up there, with the start to this season. Last year was tough. That definitely by far was the toughest loss. It’s hard not to think about that because everybody’s talking about it.”
With the exception of a fourth-place finish at Rockingham Speedway in mid-April, Sauter hadn’t placed higher than 24th (three times) in the previous six races.
“I’m competitive to a fault,” said Sauter, who finished second to Austin Dillon in the truck series championship last year. “I get a little bit too wound-up. The way this season’s gone has been very trying. I’m trying to keep everything in perspective. I got wound up with about 35 laps to go and Joe said to shut up . . . and I never said another word.”
Crafton, driver of the No. 88 Toyota, held off Joey Coulter, who posted his third top-10 finish in as many starts at TMS in his No. 22 Richard Childress Racing Chevy. Coulter was followed by Brendan Gaughan, a four-time winner at TMS, and Nelson Piquet Jr.
Ty Dillon, Austin’s younger brother, was the highest finishing rookie (seventh) despite late-race contact that sent Texas resident James Buescher into the Turn 1 wall while they were battling side-by-side for the lead on Lap 138. That incident brought out the race’s seventh caution and allowed Crafton to inherit the lead, with Sauter in fourth.
Lofton worked his way back to a ninth-place finish after getting caught in the pits when Bryan Silas’ spin on the backstretch brought out the night’s sixth caution on Lap 199. Lofton, who fell from the lead to 20th during that sequence, increased his lead over Timothy Peters to five points heading into the next event at Kentucky Speedway on June 28.