FORT WORTH, Tex. — Johnny Sauter’s pursuit of winning back-to-back Camping World Truck Series titles became a reality Friday night at Texas Motor Speedway.
Sauter held off a hard-charging Austin Cindric in the final 13 circuits to defend his Texas win and punch his ticket into the Championship 4 at Homestead.
“Total team effort, can’t thank everybody at GMS on our ISM Connect Chevrolet,” Sauter said. “Hendrick horsepower’s 400th win tonight. I was actually pretty worried about our truck after qualifying. It was pretty loose and all we did all night was go up on the trackbar half-a-round.”
Sauter clawed his way past Cindric with 39 laps to go after the 19 year-old driver bobbled off of Turn 2. Cindric led a race-high 36 laps and fell a few truck lengths short of his second-career victory.
“Tonight was a representative night of how I feel strength-wise this team is,” Cindric said. “It’s personally my best 1.5-mile race today, not just finishing position but how we worked through the weekend and how we adjusted the truck. We weren’t the best off the truck and I felt like we were one of the best trucks at the end of practice so I’m proud of that and proud of my guys.”
“I think it was youth vs. experience tonight and experience won in more ways than one. Johnny taught me a few things but at the same time, he taught me well while he passed me for the race win.”
The cycle for final green-flag pit stops began on lap 116 as Sauter took fuel only while the Brad Keselowski Racing No. 19 pit crew changed two right-side tires on cindric’s Ford F-150. The two drivers weren’t far from each other the rest of the race, battling to clinch a guaranteed playoff spot at Homestead.
June Texas winner Christopher Bell won the first stage of Friday night’s race but was never able to get back to the front in the 147-lap event.
“Stage one went right as planned and we were able to get the lead there, pit and take four tires,” Bell said. “From that point on, seemed like we were mired back the entire night. I could find my way up through the top-five, top-three and then I just kind of got stalled out and couldn’t make any more hay. Our JBL Tundra handled really good, but everybody’s trucks handled really good tonight.”
“Whenever we pitted, we got left out by ourselves and I don’t know if I could’ve charged pit road a little bit harder or accelerated a little bit better off pit road to beat those guys out but that was ultimately the race.”
Chase Briscoe finished fourth while pole-sitter Justin Haley rounded out the top-five. Haley and GMS Racing teammate Sauter made contact early in the race but both climbed their way back through the field.
Matt Crafton finished ninth in his No. 88 ThorSport Racing Toyota, nine spots ahead of teammate Ben Rhodes, who was never a factor on the night. John Hunter Nemechek ran out of gas while leading with 13 laps and was one of the final trucks to pit before ending up 19th.
With the win, Sauter is guaranteed a spot in the Championship 4 as the battle for the final position heats up between Austin Cindric and Ben Rhodes. Both drivers are separated by six points going into Phoenix while only one will be able to go for a Truck title.