Johnny Sauter grabbed the lead from rookie polesitter Jeb Burton with 17 laps left in Saturday’s Kroger 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway and pulled away to keep his 2013 perfect record intact.
Sauter won the season opener at Daytona, and after a break of 43 days, won the second race of the season at the .526-mile short track. Sauter won for the eighth time in the Truck series and posted his first back-to-back victories. It was only the second time in series history that a driver has opened the season with back-to-back wins; the first was 2006 by Mark Martin.
Sauter’s ThorSport Racing teammate, Matt Crafton, passed Burton for the second spot with four laps left. Burton held third, but his top-five finish was clouded by an accident on Lap 103, when he turned Ron Hornaday Jr. into the Turn 3 wall while battling for the lead.
Timothy Peters and Darrell Wallace Jr. completed the top five.
Though Sauter and Burton were on equal tires at the finish–in terms of the timing of their last pit stops, at least–Burton had put more stress on his right rear as he worked his way through the field.
“We all knew today was going to be about tire management, just from the tire wear we saw (Friday in practice), moreso than ever before that I can ever remember here at Martinsville,” said Sauter, a perennial hard charger. “The first part of the race, we ran 80 percent, just trying to maintain and not lose too much track position, but still try to run as fast as we could.
“That’s really hard to do, because you’ve got to keep the people behind you behind you, and you don’t want to use too much of your equipment up. … With about 45 or 50 to go, I put the hammer down and was picking them off. I still can’t believe we did it.”
With two straight wins, Sauter holds a 12-point lead over Burton in the series standings.
“I really wanted to win,” Burton said. “We have ’em covered half the race. We were really good at the beginning, and we adjusted to the track half way (through the race). Everything was good, and we still had ’em covered, I thought, and then I used the right rear tire a little bit too early when I had to get back through there.
“That was my fault. I thought there was 40 (laps) to go, and there was actually was 60 to go, and I went a little harder than I needed to.”
About the contact with Hornaday, Burton’s explanation was short and simple.
“I ran in a little too hard and got into him, and there’s not much else to say about it,” Burton said.
In a battered No. 9 Chevrolet, Hornaday rallied to finish 10th, making use of two free passes under caution as the highest scored lapped car.
Divergent pit strategies put Kevin Harvick in the lead for a restart on Lap 151 of a scheduled 250, but Harvick, who had stayed out on old tires, gave up the top spot to Nelson Piquet Jr. one lap later and began a freefall back through the field.
Three circuits after a Lap 162 restart following the eighth caution, Wallace snagged the lead from Piquet and opened an advantage of more than three seconds, but both Wallace and Piquet opted to come to pit road for fresh rubber on Lap 198, under the ninth caution for Max Gresham’s spin in Turn 2.
That gave the lead back to Burton, who brought the field to green on Lap 203, with Wallace, Piquet and Harvick deep in the field on new tires. John Wes Townley’s hard crash in Turn 4 caused the 10th caution on Lap 206 and bunched the field for a restart on Lap 218.
Wallace restarted seventh on fresh tires and had worked his way up to third by the time Harvick tapped and spun Todd Bodine in Turn 3 on Lap 229 to bring out the 11th caution. By then, Sauter, who last came to pit road with Burton on Lap 146, had fought his way into second place and was challenging Burton for the lead when the yellow flag flew.