Johnny Sauter Earns Emotional Victory In Season Opener At Daytona

by February 17, 2018 0 comments

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Johnny Sauter held off the field in the closing laps of the NextEra Energy Resources 250 on Friday night to win the 2018 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season opener at Daytona International Speedway.

Sauter led 39 laps en route to his third victory at Daytona International Speedway. The Wisconsin native completed the race-winning pass on David Gilliland with just nine laps to go in the race. The win marks GMS Racing’s third consecutive win at Daytona. With the victory, GMS Racing ties Bobby Hamilton Racing for the most series wins at Daytona.

“Man, what a truck tonight,” Sauter said. “That Allegiant Chevrolet was just ‑‑ man, yesterday in practice, you obviously try to feel things out. You don’t know what to expect coming down here with a new engine package, and unfortunately we only got in a pack of I think 10 or 12 trucks. You work the draft as best you can, but you know it’s going to be a little different when you get 30 of us or 32 of us out there running. Man, we qualified well, tried to keep track position all night, came from 10th, I think, a couple different times to get to the front, and I just felt so calm today. I just had all the faith in the world in the truck. It was fast.”

While winning at Daytona is an incredible feat, the GMS Racing No. 21 Allegiant Airlines Chevrolet team was racing with heavy hearts this weekend. Over the off-season in December, Sauter’s crew chief, Joe Shear Jr. lost his wife, Chandra.

“Getting back on the road and actually going back to work was the biggest thing that kept me going,” Shear Jr. said. “It’s sad, and I think about her all the time. But working and racing is my passion. So I just got back to it and tried to do the best I could, but I had many friends and family that worked with me and that supported me and kept me sane.”

Justin Haley in the No. 24 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet was the runner-up on Friday night. Not only was the effort a career-best finish for the 19-year-old Indian native, but it was also his first time competing at Daytona. He wasn’t old enough to race in last year’s season opener.

“Yeah, you definitely are thinking about winning, but you can’t let it get to your head,” Haley said. “All week everyone has been asking me if I’m nervous running at Daytona or not, but I think the best thing to do is put away the nerves because I just feel like focusing on the task at hand is the best way to win a race. So you’ve just got to push out all the nerves, and obviously ‑‑ you know, that was fun racing right there. I don’t know what it looked like from y’all’s perspective, but it was pretty intense for us. We were three wide, which trucks don’t do a lot. Overall a pretty good night.”

Joe Nemechek, Ben Rhodes and Scott Lagasse Jr. rounded out the top-five. Completing the top-10 was Grant Enfinger, Spencer Davis, Dalton Sargeant, Jordan Anderson and Justin Fontaine.

During the 100-lap race, there were seven cautions, with four involving multiple trucks.

The first “big one” brought the caution out on lap 56, when Grant Enfinger spun in front of the pack while exiting Turn 4. As the field scattered, Jennifer Jo Cobb slammed the inside wall, and her truck burst into flames. Other drivers involved included Cody Coughlin, Dalton Sargeant, Scott Lagasse Jr., Parker Kligerman and Noah Gragson.

On lap 65, the caution came out again when Bo LeMastus spun in Turn 4. Noah Gragson was involved, and at the same time as the crash, Parker Kligerman also blew a tire in Turn 3 and hit the wall.

John Hunter Nemechek was a top contender on Friday night, but while traveling down the backstretch and entering Turn 3, his right rear tire blew out due to a severe rub from earlier contact. The caution came out on lap 65, when Nemechek lost control and collected Brett Moffitt, Myatt Snider, Stewart Friesen, Spencer Davis and Austin Hill.

The final caution of the night came out on lap 83. The crash began when Clay Greenfield and Matt Crafton made contact in Turn 4. Greenfield’s truck pounded the outside wall, and with nowhere to go, Bryan Dauzat, Austin Hill and Korbin Forrister were involved. The red flag was displayed for 4 minutes and 20 seconds.

Sauter is the leader in the series standings. He leads Haley by 19 points.

The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will visit Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday, February 24 for the Active Pest Control 200 Benefiting Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Live coverage of the race will broadcast at 4:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1 (FS1) and the Motor Racing Network (MRN).

Photo Credit: Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images

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