Saturday, June 6, 2020

TRUCKS: Johnny Sauter disqualified at Atlanta for post-race tire issue

Johnny Sauter picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series in Saturday’s Vet Tix / Camping World 200 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his #13 Vivitar / Altec Lansing Ford finished 17th, then was disqualified after completing all 135 laps.

The finish, which came in Sauter’s 270th series start, was his first of the season and first since April 2, 2016 at Martinsville, 93 races ago. In the Truck Series’ last-place history, it was the 2nd by disqualification, the 6th for the #13, and the 106th for Ford. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 32nd for the #13, the 36th by disqualification, and the 960th for Ford.

Bryan Dauzat picked up the 2nd last-place finish of his NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series in Saturday’s Vet Tix / Camping World 200 at the Atlanta Motor Speedway when his #28 FDNY Racing Chevrolet fell out with crash damage after 4 of 136 laps.

The finish, which came in Dauzat’s 10th series start, was his first of the season and first since Bristol on August 21, 2014, 128 races ago. In the Truck Series’ last-place history, it was the 5th for the #28, the 157th from a crash, and the 386th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 42nd for the #28, the 1,208th from a crash, and the 1,713th for Chevrolet.

In 2016, Sauter’s most recent last-place finish at Martinsville was followed by a win there in the fall race, paving the way to his first series title with GMS Racing. It was his first of three consecutive seasons in the Championship Four. In 2017, he came one spot short to current Cup Series rookie Christopher Bell, then in 2018 slipped to 12th behind race and title winner Brett Moffitt. Across all three seasons, Sauter won 13 races and finished in the Top 10 in 55 of 69 races, a near 80% success rate. But at season’s end, Sauter was out of his ride at GMS, and it wasn’t until later he made the move back to ThorSport for 2019. He’d drive the #13 for the first time since 2012.

Last year had a promising start. He won the sixth race of the season at Dover, at which point he’d closed within four points of teammate Grant Enfinger. But he wouldn’t win the rest of the season, and gradually slipped down the rankings. His Dover win put him in the Playoffs, but the ThorSport team was wracked by engine failures during the opening laps of a critical cutoff race in Las Vegas. With a 29th-place finish that night, Sauter was eliminated from title contention, ending his streak in the Championship Four.

During this young season, Sauter has returned to form. He finished 7th the night Enfinger took the checkers in Daytona, then won the pole in Las Vegas and ran runner-up to Cup invader Kyle Busch. Another 7th in the series return just last week in Charlotte kept him 2nd in the point standings – just where he’d ranked a year earlier – though now tied with Zane Smith at 16 markers behind series leader Austin Hill. He’d hoped to keep things headed the right direction in Atlanta, where he drew the 10th starting spot in his #13 Ford.

He nearly went back-to-back the next year, scoring four wins and matching his season total in Top Tens, but was edged by current Cup Series rookie contender Christopher Bell.

Drawing the 40th spot was Clay Greenfield in the #68 Rackley Roofing Toyota. During the pace laps, he was frequently reminded by crew chief Jeff Hammond to take care of his tires on the aging Atlanta surface. Greenfield again ran the “Tennessee Strong” paint scheme he ran at Charlotte, and had planned to run when this race was to be held in March. No drivers incurred pre-race penalties or voluntarily dropped to the rear, so Greenfield remained alongside 39th-place starter Bayley Currey in CMI Motorsports’ #49 Chevrolet.

When the green flag dropped, Currey got the jump on Greenfield to keep the #68 in 40th. By the end of Lap 1, both had passed Bryan Dauzat, who was in last place and trailing by open track at the start of Lap 2. Then, coming off the second corner, Dauzat spun to the inside of the track and stalled on the apron of the backstretch. While it didn’t appear his truck suffered serious damage, at least one tire was flat and the truck was stalled. Crew gave him a push and he made it to pit road. By then, he was three laps down.

As the crew underwent repairs, the team made further adjustments, saying the truck was bottoming out hard, just as it had in Charlotte. The team made adjustments in both the right-front and left-front before sending him back out on Lap 7, six laps in arrears. It was unclear whether he’d cleared the “Crash Clock,” but he was able to continue. Unfortunately, he sped off pit road, and NASCAR called him in for a pass-through. Moments after being lapped a seventh time, Dauzat barely avoided getting run over as he slowed to serve his penalty. “This is a joke every week,” said someone on the crew, understandably frustrated.

On Lap 10, Dauzat was back underway, and the team hoped to make it to the next scheduled caution. Unfortunately, on Lap 13, they drew the yellow instead. This time in heavy traffic, Dauzat spun out of the low lane in Turn 2. Jeb Burton, running behind him in the #44 State Water Heaters Chevrolet, suffered slight damage to his left-front as the two made contact. This time, Dauzat made contact with the inside wall. The driver said he cut another tire. Someone on the crew said, “Put a tire on it before I park this thing.” Dauzat would not return to the race. Although it was reported his day ended under the “Damaged Vehicle Policy,” the crash was his listed reason out rather than “DVP.”

The 2020 season marks the 60-year-old Dauzat’s fifth as a part-time competitor in the Truck Series. He’s driven for longtime car owner Jim Rosenblum, whose FDNY Racing team has been in the series since the very beginning, most often attempting the races at Daytona, Charlotte, and Pocono. In addition to their runs this year, Rosenblum has posted several pictures from the team’s history on his Facebook page, featuring the many patriotic schemes the team has run on their Chevrolets.

Carrying additional sponsorship from American Genomics and O.B. Builders, Dauzat’s red #28 qualified a strong 22nd for this year’s opener at Daytona. He was still on the lead lap when his race ended on Lap 66. During a multi-truck pileup in Turn 2, Dauzat pulled to the apron, where he rear-ended Tate Fogleman’s burning #02 Solid Rock Carriers Chevrolet. Both drivers were uninjured. Driver and team didn’t attempt the following round in Las Vegas, but ironically benefitted from the suspension of the season. They rebuilt the Daytona truck and had it ready at Charlotte, where the team’s rank in Owner Points secured them into the now 40-truck fields. While Dauzat ran last for much of the night and had issues with something dragging under his truck, he managed to finish under power in 34th, 14 laps down.

As at Charlotte, the FDNY team had planned to run the full race, as evidenced by the sets of tires the team now had to deal with. Jimmy Means bought all but one set for his XFINITY team that afternoon, and another set then went to another team. Bob Pockrass clarified the rule, pointing out that teams can sell their tires to teams in any of the other top three series, so long as they have the “same code and similar date code and the series director approves.”

Finishing 39th was T.J. Bell, who lost a lot of time when his truck kept losing power. Multiple laps down on Lap 75, the team thought he was simply out of fuel. In the end, he completed just 53 laps before retiring with a burned clutch. Jordan Anderson’s #3 Capital City / Chevrolet took 38th, out with crash damage after 95 laps. It was Anderson who was pulling to the outside when Kyle Busch attempted to squeeze past in Turn 4, putting Busch’s #51 Cessna Toyota into the outside wall.

Rounding out the Bottom Five were Jennifer Jo Cobb in the #10 Newnan Peachtree Dodge Chevrolet and the #97 Teletrac Navman Chevrolet of Jesse Little, both flagged in the late stages for not meeting minimum speed. Cobb, who was warned on Lap 93, was posted on Lap 110 and parked on Lap 120. Her team told her to stay in her pit stall, then go to the garage with two to go. Little managed to clear his infraction and finished under power.

But then, Little was then bumped out of the Bottom Five when Johnny Sauter was disqualified just after 6 P.M. Eastern. The reason listed was a “race tire violation.” According to series director Brad Moran, the #13 team was in violation of treating or modifying one of the tires. The issue was discovered during the “dunk tank” test, which was done with one randomly picked Toyota, Chevrolet, and Ford team. A discovered air leak led to the penalty and disqualification, nixing Sauter’s 17th-place finish.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #13 in the Truck Series since July 19, 2008, when Shelby Howard’s #13 Chevrolet – also fielded by Duke Thorson – crashed after 2 laps of the Built Ford Tough 225 Presented By Cincinnati Ford Dealers at Kentucky.
*This is also the second time in Sauter’s career that he’s been classified last by disqualification in a NASCAR national touring series race. In fact, prior to NASCAR’s re-institution of post-race DQs, it was Sauter who scored the most recent last-place finish by disqualification in the XFINITY Series. On April 16, 2005, Sauter’s #1 Fleet Pride / Yellow Dodge was docked for an oversized carburetor. Sauter’s DQ saved Tony Stewart from a last-place finish for an early crash.

40) #13-Johnny Sauter / 136 laps / disqualified
39) #28-Bryan Dauzat / 4 laps / crash
38) #83-T.J. Bell / 53 laps / clutch
37) #3-Jordan Anderson / 95 laps / crash
36) #10-Jennifer Jo Cobb / 109 laps / too slow

1st) Niece Motorsports, Reaume Brothers Racing, Spencer Davis Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (2)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (1)


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