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Veterans Unlikely Underdogs in CWTS Chase Field

Even with an influx of young guns dominating the Camping World Truck Series Chase Grid, three mainstays prepare to battle for the championship title.

An exciting CWTS event at Chicagoland Speedway ended with Johnny Sauter and Timothy Peters finishing within the top 10, while an early accident relegated Matt Crafton to 27th. However, none of that matters now as all three prepare to chase the series title. NASCAR arranged the Chase field by wins, placing Crafton in second. Sauter earned a fifth-place seeding, while Peters starts the championship battle in eighth.

Experience is critical in racing, and these three have it; the trio holds 36 full-time CWTS season between them, with 34 victories as added bonuses. Their stats impress, but it will take more to overthrow the youngsters; with their independent organizations and advanced age, these three are suddenly the underdogs.

The Chase format – and tracks within that format –favor young drivers; New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, and Martinsville Speedway require aggressive racing, something this young crop does very well. William Byron and Christopher Bell‘s driving styles are nearly identical to team owner Kyle Busch’s. John Hunter Nemechek is kind of tough, too – ask Cole Custer for some clarification. They are all willing to take necessary risks and put their trucks where the veterans wouldn’t dare.

Although that is true, the three elder statesmen are some of the toughest in NASCAR competition. You won’t see Sauter ease up for a competitor, whether it be the second lap or the 202nd. Crafton and Peters aren’t complacent, either. With their extensive résumés comes a low tolerance for uncalculated moves. Their equipment may not include Sprint Cup Series-affiliated engines, yet they still compete for victories on a regular basis. That shows not only their teams’ strength but also the individual drivers’ ability to wheel their truck through the field.

Battling older drivers sounds easy – until you realize they’re all tough as nails and will probably put you in the wall for the win. That will most likely happen on more than one occasion during the final seven races; victories are crucial to advancing in this championship format and offer a sense of security. Talladega and Martinsville could quickly derail someone’s title run with their unpredictable nature. Good thing Crafton, Sauter, and Peters run well at these venues. The No. 88 can find victory lane at Martinsville or Texas Motor Speedway. Sauter mirrors the same strengths. Peters is a force everywhere, but Talladega is circled on his calendar. Add in the fact he hasn’t won in 2016, and you have a driver with a gnawing hunger. The most foreboding tracks are where these three flourish – and that helps their Chase chances.

Crafton, Sauter, and Peters represent the older, independent crowd; ThorSport Racing, GMS Racing, and Red Horse Racing lack Cup Series ties, a rarity in the championship field. Their Chase presence is noteworthy, yes, but can it be fruitful with a bunch of college-aged kids breathing down their necks? The young crowd’s aggression combats the veterans’ experience, but the No. 88, No. 21, and No. 17 will rise to the front in no time. They can be just as fierce and hungry for wins.

Although it may be easy to pick a young gun for the championship, there’s no question that Crafton, Sauter, and Peters won’t make it easy for him.

EMAIL KRISTEN AT kristen.schneider@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Sauter Feels Confident Heading Towards Chase

After starting off the year on a rocky note, it seems things have smoothed out for Johnny Sauter in his first year with GMS Racing.

The veteran started off the year on a high with a win at Daytona International Speedway, though followed it up three finishes outside of the top-15. Though continuing to gel his team members and building up their program, Sauter has found the consistency which led him to strong top-five finishes in points in the past.

“I’d give us a B+,” he told POPULAR SPEED. “I feel we’ve run well, but could’ve been stronger. It’s just a bunch of small things, not one big thing. We’ve been fast, but wish we would’ve got a few more wins.”

Notably, he has gone on to post five top-fives and seven top-10s in the last eight races. One of the significant changes was reuniting Sauter with past crew chief Joe Shear Jr.

Though beyond Sauter, GMS Racing has gotten stronger with Spencer Gallagher scoring five top-10s to go along with four top-10s from Ben Kennedy including a fourth at Texas Motor Speedway, an eighth by Kaz Grala in his second start and a win by Kyle Larson. The success has come from successfully working together, per Sauter.

“I guess it’s been a role reversal in being the older guy,” he said. “It’s a two-way street. I lean on them just as much they lean on me. There’s something to be said about pre-conceived notions as sometimes experience makes you think you know it all versus young and not knowing.”

The team’s progress goes along with team owner Maury Gallagher’s words at the beginning of the season. He stated he brought Sauter in to win the organization a championship and said following the season-opener victory they’d contend throughout the Chase.

“I feel good about our chances,” Sauter said. “I feel like I’m in a good position due to the possibility of pressure getting to the young guys. I wish we would’ve run stronger all year and won more races, but for some reason, I feel good about it.”

Sauter will look to get his second victory of the season on a track which he hasn’t won at previously – Bristol Motor Speedway. Despite no checkered flags, his previous success combined with Shear’s short track program creates the confidence. In his last three starts on the half-mile, he has posted a top-nine finish.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

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Sauter Miffed After Last Lap Crash with Rhodes

It appeared Johnny Sauter had the victory in hand when the field took the white flag in the Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas Speedway on Saturday night. However, his fate changed when he and Ben Rhodes got together on the final lap.

The last-lap incident in Turn 3 relegated Sauter from a possible victory to a 16th-place finish. Sauter was leading the race, but Rhodes gained ground on the backstretch and had a run entering the corner. Sauter tried to defend the position and the two made contact, sending both cars into the wall and allowing William Byron to retake the lead and score the victory under caution.

After the race, Sauter was displeased with the 19-year-old Truck Series rookie.

“Just got ran over by a bozo, I guess,” Sauter said after the race in an interview with Fox Sports. “I don’t know if the kid is brain dead or he can’t see. Our truck was really good. We had to start at the back and made our way to the front. We had to come back from the back again just how the pit stops worked out. It was fun to drive, but it’s unfortunate that you can’t race like you want to.”

Sauter had to start at the rear due to an unapproved change on his truck and raced his way up through the field and into the top five. After a single truck spin set up an overtime finish, Byron didn’t get up to speed, so Sauter took over and led up until the last-lap entanglement.

The 16th-place finish is the third consecutive disappointing finish for Sauter. Since his victory at Daytona in February, the veteran driver has failed to finish inside the top 10 and has an average finish of 19.2 in 2016.

Rhodes, who was also displaced from a top-five finish, finished 18th. After starting the season with a seventh-place finish at Daytona and a sixth-place showing at Atlanta, he scored the pole at Martinsville in April, but ended up finishing 16th.

“From my perspective, Johnny (Sauter) came down the track to block me on the straightaway,” Rhodes said after the race. “So I was up high, and then he started coming back up, and left the bottom open, which the replay doesn’t do it justice from where I was sitting. He started coming back down, blocking again, and at that time I was wanting to check up, but I got on the brakes and it got a little loose on me, so I was just where I was at. I feel bad for Johnny as well.

“Rookie mistake on my part, I should have known he was going to come down and block me again. He was trying to block me on the high side, and came back down once I moved to the bottom, and I should have just stuck it on the top and run it wide open to see if I could have got a good finish. We really need the points right now. It’s just disappointing. We had a shot to win it, and I just wanted to take it because the chase format is so hard to get into, because the competition is so tough. I hate it for my guys though, I’m really disappointed with the finish.”

Both Sauter and Rhodes will return to action when the Camping World Truck Series races on Friday, May 13th at Dover International Speedway.

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement

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Loudon Lowdown: Five Points Separate ThorSport Teammates

By Vito Pugliese – Saturday’s UNOH 175 at Loudon, NH marks the 16th race of the season, and seven to go as the Camping World Truck Series Championship looks to be decided between @Matt_Crafton and @JohnnySauter. Crafton edged ahead of ThorSport teammate Sauter by five points following last week’s race at Chicagoland Speedway. While @KyleBusch had to fight from the back twice, Crafton’s second place finish was reminiscent of his performance a year ago which garnered him his first Truck Series championship, after 13 years of full-time competition.

Absent from the Truck Series schedule the past two seasons, New Hampshire returns as a bright spot for Crafton. His last three finishes there are two fourth place finishes and a sixth place run in 2011. Teammate and points shadow Sauter has essentially the same record – two fifth place runs in 2009 and 2011 book-ending a seventh place run in 2011. Third place points driver @RyanBlaney22 trails by just 16 markers, but has yet to visit The Magic Mile. The series other flat one mile track in Phoenix produced results similar to those of his two points rivals – a seventh and fifth place finish.

While Kyle Busch added to his win total at Chicagoland winning for the sixth time in seven starts, he will not be in the field this weekend, given the rest of the regulars pause for reflection on how they might actually win this race. Erik Jones will in the No. 51, he has proven to be just about the equal to the boss should he not get caught up in anything not of his doing. Jones had a win this year at Iowa and finished third in his last start in this truck at the road course in Ontario. It’s worth noting that Jones did indeed score his first career win last season at Phoenix, which is also a flat one-mile track – at the ripe old age of 17.

Jones isn’t the only driver ineligible to drink in victory lane this weekend. @GrayGaulding, the 16-year old who has impressed in each of his starts this season will be in one of two Bob Newberry trucks this season. Gaulding finished fourth at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in his last start. Gaulding has two starts at Loudon in the K&N East Series, finishing 8th both times, but like @Erik_Jones, has a win at Phoenix a year ago in the K&N West Series – at 15 years of age. While Austin Dillon drove this No. 20 truck to a win at Pocono this summer, crew chief Chris Rice will not be. He was suspended for one race and fined $7,500 after the No. 20 failed post-race inspection at Chicagoland. Rice was already on probation from an infraction earlier in the season for a P3 level penalty. Owner Bob Newberry was fined ten owner’s points as well.

There are also other happening within the NTS team, as @RonHornaday is back in action next Saturday with his former NTS Motorsports team. The No. 9 Chevrolet will wear the Rheem colors that he started the year in the No. 30 at Turner Scott Motorsports. It is a two-race deal for now that will see the four-time champion in the seat for next weekend’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and next month at Texas Motor Speedway. Hornaday was fourth in the point standings before the events unfolded that saw the Steve Turner-owned portion of the team dissolve while the teams were en route to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park last month.

This weekend’s coverage begins at 1: 00pm Saturday on FOX Sports 1.