Johnny Sauter raced to his third NASCAR Truck Series victory of the season Saturday, surviving a huge crash on the final turn at Talladega Superspeedway that took out Kyle Busch and everyone else racing at the front of the pack .
Three sets of trucks paired up in the closing laps — Sauter with series leader Matt Crafton, Busch with Dakoda Armstrong, and Ross Chastain with Parker Kligerman.
Sauter was the only one to be spared from a 12-truck crash that occurred when pole-sitter Jeb Burton got tangled up with Busch, sending the Sprint Cup star slamming into both the inside and outside walls. Miguel Paludo’s No. 32 machine flipped and slid across the line upside down, before turning back over in the first turn, finally coming to a stop with flames flickering from the hood.
Sauter took the checkered flag in his No. 98 Toyota, while David Starr weaved through the carnage to claim second place. Chastain sustained heavy damage but slid across the line in third.
Most of the drivers were treated at the infield medical center and released, but Justin Lofton was transported to a hospital for further evaluation. NASCAR did not reveal the extent of his injuries.
"It’s like any restrictor-plate race: pretty crazy," Sauter said. "I looked in my rearview mirror and saw smoke and trucks were spinning everywhere. I saw Matt was gone and I was like, `Uh oh, this isn’t good.’"
Sauter started the year with back-to-back victories at Daytona and Martinsville, but a midseason slump knocked him out of title contention.
"We’re back on track," said Sauter, who has nine career Truck victories. "Hopefully, we can finish strong."
Crafton wound up ninth in a battered truck, but that was good enough to extend his lead in the season standings to 57 points over Ty Dillon with four races remaining. James Buescher, who had been running second overall, slipped back after being taken out in an earlier crash — one of four big pileups that stretched the finish of the race to near nightfall. Buescher wound up 26th.
Busch was going for his 20th win of the year in NASCAR’s three national series, but it didn’t end like he wanted.
"I just hate it man," he said. "That was one of our best trucks, obviously. It’s killed now. It’s all done."
When Busch finally came to a stop, he climbed from his mangled machine and sat against the outside wall, breathing heavily. He’s still got another race to go this weekend on the 2.66-mile trioval — Sunday’s Sprint Cup event.
"I didn’t want to sit in a hot vehicle," he said. "I figured I might as well get out and get some fresh air."