FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Johnny Sauter took the checkered flag again at Texas, and this time got the NASCAR Truck Series victory.
Sauter passed teammate Matt Crafton for the lead with 22 laps left Friday night, and went on to become the seventh driver to win in the first seven races.
It was at Texas last June when Sauter pulled away on a final restart with two laps left before being black-flagged by NASCAR. He took the checkered flag that night, but was dropped to 22nd after going from the outside lane to inside in front of Ron Hornaday Jr. before crossing the start-finish line on the restart.
“There’s no sweeter vindication,” Sauter said. “Last year was really tough to swallow, had the dominant truck, and come down to a late race restart like that. Rules are rules, and I broke the rules. … With the season we’ve had up until this point, just been bad luck after bad luck, to start the race in 20th and ultimately be able to drive to lead and just overcome some obstacles tonight, I couldn’t be prouder” of the team.
Sauter’s fifth career victory was his first since the rain-shortened season finale at Homestead last November after he had finished 24th or worst in five of the six races this year. He led twice for 41 of the 167 laps in his Toyota.
Crafton finished second ahead of Joey Coulter, who got his career-best finish on his 22nd birthday in the No. 22 Chevrolet.
The 1-2 finish was the first for ThorSport Racing since September 2009. Sauter finished 2.1 seconds ahead of Crafton.
Crafton had taken the lead during the race’s seventh caution, caused when front-runners James Buescher and Ty Dillon made contact after running side-by-side for several laps. Dillon appeared to get loose when he tried to make a move around Buescher.
“I was trying to win my first race, he was trying to win at Texas,” Dillon said. “I hate it happened to him. He had a great truck, I think we both had the fastest two trucks of the night. I hate I tore up trucks, but I’m not going to pull over and let somebody win. He has the right to be mad, but you know what, it’s just racing.”
Dillon finished seventh, eight spots ahead of Buescher, who is from nearby Plano. Buescher has won on four different courses at Texas — the dirt track, one-fifth mile track, quarter-mile frontstretch layout and the road course — but not on the main 1 1/2-mile high-banked track.
It was only a couple of laps after the final restart when Sauter took the lead for good.
When Sauter was leading on lap 73, Paulie Harraka and Max Gresham made contact in front of him. As both of those trucks slid up the track, Sauter avoided by going low.
“Luck is involved,” Sauter said. “It was actually throttle back a little bit, make sure that I was being cautious because I knew I had the truck to beat. If I was racing those guys as hard who knows if we would have gotten through that. I was in a position to be able to just take my time and sift through everybody and take my time.”
On the restart after that, Sauter was ninth. He gained spots on each of the first two laps, and kept moving toward the front.
Series points leader Justin Lofton started on the pole by owners points after qualifying was wiped out by rain. He led a race-high 55 laps, but was out of synch with other trucks on fuel when he had to give up the head after 126 laps.
Right as he was coming out of the pits, a caution came out and he was 20th on the restart with 33 laps to go.
Dillon was on the inside and led Buescher, who pulled up outside on the backstretch. They stayed side-by-side until their race-altering wreck.
Todd Bodine, a six-time winner at Texas, was coming off a victory at Dover last week. But his race was done after 32 laps because of a blown engine.