ThorSport Racing’s Johnny Sauter started the season with a string of bad luck, starting with a wreck while running in first on the penultimate lap at Daytona to a late part failure at Charlotte.
Sauter had finished 24th or worse in five of six races heading into the June 8 race at Texas.
The bad luck in Texas started before the race began, when qualifying was canceled because of rain, nullifying Sauter’s field-leading practices. But ThorSport broke its curse with an emphatic 1-2 finish by Sauter and teammate Matt Crafton.
Mike Truax: After a rough start to the season, did this win mean more than a normal victory?
Johnny Sauter: It meant a lot on a lot of different levels, I guess. To me, the one that sticks out — last year’s race is kind of yesterday’s news — but this year, looking forward, it is hard to keep people upbeat and positive when we’ve had the luck that we’ve had, not only for myself but for everybody. I mean the guys on the team, the sponsors, the whole package. It’s good to get a little dose of why we’re doing this, and that’s ultimately to win races and championships. It’s just a good morale booster for everybody.
The one thing that’s different from some of the patches is the guys’ careers is that we’ve been performing well, running in the top five every race before we had trouble. You had a little to hang your hat on
as far as being competitive.Having said that, every win is special in its own right for various reasons … but I think if anything it’s a little bit of vindication. It’s been a rough patch, and then go to a race track where things really went bad a year ago and go in there and kick butt like we did just feels good. We want more. I think the big emphasis a year ago was points, and I think the big emphasis now is to win races. I’m all good with that.
MT: Did the fact that you’ve been running well make the rough stretch easier or more difficult to take?
JS: When you’re having a bad day and you’re running 15th and something goes wrong, it’s adding salt to the wound, so to speak. When you’re showing up like Charlotte, and you’re running second, running the
leader down, then you’ve got a fuel pump problem, or when you’re leading at Daytona coming to the white flag, that’s obviously tough to swallow, but it’s a lot easier to handle when you know you were
running well. At least for me, it might not be the case for everybody, but it is what it is. We still have speed in our trucks. We still know what we’re doing. Sooner or later it’s got to turn around for us, and that’s been my mentality. You’ve just got to stay the course, stay positive.
MT: What experience did you draw on to get through the bad start?
JS: I’ve been racing a long time, so I’ve seen this stuff come and go. I’ve seen races where we’ve had 15th-place trucks and we’ve finished second, and I’ve seen it where we’ve run second or should have won and had trouble. For me, it’s never easy to take. It’s hard for me, it’s hard for the guys, it’s hard for everybody. Everybody gets fired up, gets pumped up for a new season after coming off a great year a year ago. Everybody’s like, “OK. This is the year.” Then five of the first six races you’ve gotten horrible finishes. It is what it is. It’s not for a lack of effort on anybody’s part.I go back to the serenity prayer: You control the things you can control, and the rest is what it is. That’s kind of where I’m at.
MT: What were you thinking when you bagged the win?
JS: To be honest with you, when qualifying rained out, everybody was like, “How much worse can this year get? We had the fastest truck in practice and qualifying rains out.” It’s like, “Really?” Starting out
with this year’s points, we’re 20th. My mentality has changed a little bit. I feel like I’m in a position now to be aggressive. We went from 20th to first in 55 laps. I guess my mentality is that we can be aggressive.
When we crossed the start/finish line, I wasn’t really surprised. I didn’t really have any crazy emotions going on. It was just, “This is what we’re supposed to do every week.” I think a lot of times everybody rests on their laurels (after) they’ve won the race. To me, and I think I speak for my guys, everybody in victory lane was like, “This is good, but we want more.” Every win is awesome, but when things aren’t going the way you want them to, you don’t want one win. You want more.
MT: You said your position right now allows you to be more aggressive. Would you be racing differently now if you were, say, second in points right now versus your current position?
JS: I say “be more aggressive” and maybe — I feel like I’m a pretty aggressive guy — when I’m talking more aggressive, I’m talking that extra 2 percent, I’m not talking 100 percent, or 80 percent, or anything like that. It’s just that, if you see guys racing two or three wide in front of you and you’ve got a run on them, maybe you put yourself in a position to try to take it four wide. … You still race aggressively. You put everything into every lap, 100 percent of the time, but maybe in setups you can be more aggressive.
Just everything. Not just from the driver’s perspective, but maybe we can make a gamble on a pit call that maybe you wouldn’t take if you were worried about running out of fuel if you were leading the points.
If you’re 15th in points, you say, “Aww, hell. Let’s go for it. Maybe we’re a lap short, maybe we’ll make it.”
MT: How much of the early season problems do you think had to do with the manufacturer change in the offseason.
JS: I don’t think it really had a big impact to be totally honest with you. I knew right off the bat, with the first (Toyota) truck that we’d built and took to the wind tunnel, we were pretty much damn near where
we were with the Chevrolets, as far as the aero balance and stuff like that. Obviously we knew that the motors were going to be a little bit different, but everybody’s in such a box that everybody’s pretty similar across the board, no matter what manufacturer you are. I also knew with the tools Toyota was able to offer, as far as technological support, in the long run it was going to pay off. A lot of the stuff we’ve had trouble with at the beginning of the year had nothing to do with the manufacturer. They were just parts.
MT: What did the great finish for ThorSport at Texas do for the doubters of the manufacturer change?
JS: It’s human nature to be a doubter. “Doubting Thomas,” as they would say, I guess. Everybody’s probably looking at last year, saying, “You had your best year.” Both teams won races, I finished second in points and things looked good. Why on Earth would you want to change manufacturers? But you’ve got to look at everything from a different perspective, and say, “OK, what do we have to do to take the
organization to the next step?” I think a lot of times people are just afraid of change. In racing, I can tell you, you’re always looking for that competitive advantage, and sometimes what doesn’t make sense will
make sense down the road. I think that’s where we’re at.