Sauter finally tastes victory in truck race at Dover

DOVER — It’s often said in racing circles that second place is just the first loser.

Johnny Sauter, who had finished in the runner-up spot in three consecutive Camping World Truck Series races, finally did those recent performances one better at Dover International Speedway on Friday evening.

Driving on older tires than his competition, Sauter masterfully held on to the top spot following the final restart with 33 laps to go in winning the the Bar Harbor 200 presented by Sea Watch International Camping World Truck Series race.

Sauter finished about two truck-lengths (0.270 seconds) ahead of his teammate Kaz Grala when the checkered flag waved. Grant Enfinger finished third.

Ben Rhodes wasn’t quite as fortunate as Sauter.

Johnny Sauter celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Bar Harbor 200 truck race at Dover International Speedway on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Rhodes, who pitted while leading with 35 laps to go as fuel-mileage strategies began to play out, rebounded to finish fourth after he led a race-high 71 laps.
Sauter said he wasn’t very confident at the start of the day at Dover’s high-banked, one-mile oval.

Things turned out much different as the defending Truck Series champion recorded his first victory at Dover in his ninth career start at the track.

“There are some days when you wake up and you don’t feel like it’s going to be your day and things aren’t clicking,” said Sauter, who became the fifth different winner in six Truck Series races this season. “I’m so proud of everybody on the team’s effort. Pit stops were great today.

Johnny Sauter wins the Bar Harbor 200 truck race at Dover International Speedway on Friday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“It was an unbelievable effort. We definitely struggled with traffic.”

Fortunately for Sauter, thanks to some nifty fuel strategy, he found his way in clean air at the front of the pack.

Grala, who received his high school diploma during pre-race introductions, was able to close in on Sauter over the final 33 circuits but was never able to pass him.

“(Friday) has been beyond satisfying,” said Grala, who won the season-opening truck race at Daytona. “This was clearly a big day all around.”

Grala knew he was in trouble when Sauter got out front.

“I think (clean) air trumps tires for the most part,” Grala said, of his newer tires. “Johnny Sauter is a veteran and a champion for a reason. He certainly knew when I’d get near him and he was able to hold me at bay.”

The race was the first at Dover featuring NASCAR’s new stage-racing format.

Ryan Truex was first at the end of the first 45-lap segment, defending race winner Matt Crafton was out front at the conclusion of the second 45-lap segment and Sauter won the most important – final – segment and earned the Monster Trophy.

The race took two hours, one minutes and three seconds to complete for an average speed of 99.133 mph. It was slowed by eight caution flags for 43 laps, including two at the end of the first two stages.

There were five lead changes among five drivers over the 200-mile event.

Joe Shear Jr., Sauter’s crew chief, knew what it was going to take to win – just get his driver out front.

“We learned really early that track position was everything,” Shear said. “Our goal was to get him out front.

“We just had to get the gas mileage where we needed it and I was doing a lot of praying at the end.”

It paid off in one Monster victory.

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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