As the 2014 NASCAR Trucks season began the second half of the 22-race schedule, Sandusky-based ThorSport is back in a familiar position.
Teammates Johnny Sauter and Matt Crafton sit atop the points standings in the series after the two finished first and second at Saturday’s Careers for Veterans 200 at Michigan International Speedway.
It was Sauter’s 10th career victory in the Truck series, and his first at the two-mile MIS oval.
Starting fifth, Sauter complained of a tight Toyota Tundra, but managed to work his way up to the fourth position before making a scheduled green-flag pit stop on lap 51 for four tires and fuel. The No. 98 truck returned to the racing surface in the third position and took over the top spot on lap 76.
But the 100-lap event came down to fuel mileage, and with a pit strategy call by Hensley, Sauter was in the thick of the hunt with teammate Crafton. Sauter led 16 laps before being forced down pit road for three seconds of fuel, relinquishing the lead to Crafton on lap 92.
Crafton, who had a 31-second lead on Sauter, eventually had to give up the lead four laps later for a splash-and-go. As the No. 88 exited pit road, Sauter passed him on the race track in the exit of Turn 2 and never looked back, crossing the finish line with a .43 second margin of victory.
In 12 starts in 2014, Sauter has six top-five and ten top-10 finishes. He takes over the NCWTS points standings from Ryan Blaney. Sauter is at the top with 448 points, while Crafton moved up from third to second with 439 points, just ahead of Blaney (432).
“I'm just proud of the effort from everybody at ThorSport,” Sauter said. “Having Jeff (Hensley) come over here, winning on his first race, it's unreal. This is a great day for us. This puts us in the points lead, just halfway through the season with some really good races coming up for us.
“I'm going to relish in this win because this has been a tough, tough race track for me throughout my career,” he added. “My dad always said, 'that place is easy,' but I never felt that way, until today. When you have a truck like this … it was just awesome.”
Crafton rises from 14th to 2nd
Crafton's afternoon began from the 14th position, and the ThorSport Racing driver quickly moved towards the front of the field at the drop of the green flag.
The race's only yellow flag was displayed on lap nine, as Crafton muscled his way into the top-10.
With a lengthy cleanup, the caution period proved to be a pivotal moment in the event. Ever mindful of fuel strategy, crew chief Carl Joiner called Crafton to pit road for fuel on lap 11, which set up pit strategy that carried the team through to the scheduled distance.
Blending off of pit road and onto the racing surface following that final stop, Crafton drag-raced Sauter, down the backstretch for the race lead with three laps remaining. Ultimately, Crafton trailed Sauter by mere truck lengths at the checkered flag.
"It was a good day for ThorSport Racing finishing one-two,” Crafton said. “I can't thank these guys on the Menards team enough for working as hard as they did this weekend. We had that issue in practice that got us a little behind, and didn't quite have the speed we needed to, so to get a second-place finish is a pretty good day.
“Track position was everything,” he added. “If you got underneath somebody and didn't get the pass done and you had the train of other trucks that came on the outside, you would get shuffled back five spots. So it was so hard to be in the right place at the right time. I think if we would have had the lead, we definitely could have won the race."
Burton gives ThorSport third top 10 truck
Jeb Burton scored his second top-10 finish at MIS with an eighth-place effort Saturday, just one spot short of his qualifying position.
Burton and the Estes Express team showed speed through the course of the event and overcame a pit road miscue to post their fourth top-10 finish of the 2014 campaign.
As the NCWTS heads into the final 10 events of the season, Burton remains 10th in the championship point standings.
Rebounding from the issues on the previous trip to pit road, Burton made a quick gas-and-go stop for fuel with less than 10 laps remaining. By taking fuel only, Burton spent less time on pit road, and gaining positions through the cycle of pit stops.
The 22-year-old chased down positions right to the checkered flag, earning his fourth top-10 of the season with an eighth-place showing.
"I felt like we had a truck that had a shot to win the race today,” Burton said. “We get so stretched out under green and it's hard to regain the track position. The hang-up on pit road is frustrating, but we'll work on that and improve. It's nice to have speed, a good strategy, and run good all race long."