Johnny Sauter holds off Chase El­liott to ad­vance

Cecil Whig - - & - By REID SPENCER

NASCAR Wire Ser­vice

— With a fin­ish that was the di­a­met­ric op­po­site of his last run at Martinsville Speed­way, Johnny Sauter punched his ticket to the NASCAR Camp­ing World Truck Se­ries cham­pi­onship race with a vic­tory in Satur­day’s Texas Road­house 200 at the .526mile short track.

Af­ter a restart with 18 laps left, Sauter, who fin­ished last at Martinsville in April, held off pole win­ner Chase El­liott, beat­ing the No. 71 Chevro­let driver to the fin­ish line by .316 sec­onds.

On Lap 176, Sauter took the lead from John Hunter Ne­mechek, who had gained track po­si­tion with an ear­lier two-tire stop un­der cau­tion. Sauter held the top spot the rest of the way, through a stretch that in­cluded the fifth cau­tion of the race for an ac­ci­dent

MARTINSVILLE, VA.

that put Ben Kennedy’s ti­tle hopes in peril.

But Sauter knows he’ll be rac­ing for the cham­pi­onship on Nov. 18 at Home­stead-Mi­ami Speed­way, where he scored the fourth of his 12 ca­reer vic­to­ries in 2011.

“The key deal is lik­ing a race track, and I can’t think of a bet­ter race track to de­cide a cham­pi­onship than Home­stead,” Sauter said. “It’s a very racy place – you can run all over the race track. I feel like we are peak­ing at the right time. I feel like we’ve kind of saved some of our best bul­lets, so to speak, for the end, and we can go and re­ally work hard on our Home­stead piece for these next cou­ple weeks.

“But I’m a racer – I think we all are – and we’re not just go­ing to hang out these next two weeks. Texas has been a race track that we’ve had some suc­cess at in the past. We sat on the pole there ear- lier this year and had a shot to win the race… We want to win races, but we’re in a lux­u­ri­ous spot, I guess you’d call it. I want to win a cham­pi­onship. I’ve been do­ing this a long time, and have won races, but a cham­pi­onship is some­thing that’s eluded me.”

Sauter’s No. 21 GMS Rac­ing Chevro­let surged ahead on the Lap 183 restart. On the same cir­cuit, El­liott passed Ne­mechek for the run­ner-up spot and took off in pur­suit of Sauter. Un­able to ex­e­cute a clean pass of the leader, El­liott set­tled for sec­ond place in his first NCWTS start since Nov. 8, 2013 at Phoenix.

“I got loose off of Turn 2 com­ing to the check­ered (flag), and that was prob­a­bly my op­por­tu­nity to get him,” said El­liott, who will start fifth in Sun­day’s Goody’s Fast Re­lief 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Se­ries race (1 p.m. ET on NBCSN). “But you’ve got to be care­ful. Those guys are rac­ing for a cham­pi­onship, and some days it’s just not worth mak­ing a mis­take or wreck­ing a guy or what­ever.

“Ob­vi­ously, I wish we could have got him, but I feel like I learned a lot to­day, and that’s the most im­por­tant thing for (Sun­day).”

Kennedy left the track wish­ing Ben Rhodes had used the same re­straint El­liott ob­served in Satur­day’s race. On Lap 176, Rhodes punted Kennedy’s No. 33 Chevro­let in the mid­dle of Turn 2 and sent it spin­ning. In the af­ter­math of the wreck, John Wes Town­ley col­lided with Kennedy’s Sil­ver­ado, do­ing fur­ther dam­age.

Kennedy stayed on the lead lap but set­tled for 18th place, worst among the six Chase drivers and one spot ahead of two-time cham­pion Matt Crafton, whose af­ter­noon went south with a bro­ken left rear brake caliper.

Af­ter the race, Kennedy and Rhodes en­gaged in a heated ex­change on pit road with NASCAR of­fi­cials be­tween them.

“He just wrecked us,” Kennedy told re­porters. “He tried to wreck us ear­lier and failed. On to the next.”

Rhodes took re­spon­si­bil­ity for the crash.

“I owe him an apol­ogy for sure,” Rhodes said. “I know he’s in the Chase. I thought I could nudge him cleanly but got into him a sec­ond time and spun him around.”

Ne­mechek came home third in front of Chase drivers Christo­pher Bell and Tim­o­thy Pe­ters, who ran fourth and fifth, re­spec­tively. Wil­liam By­ron fin­ished eighth to gain the fourth spot in the Chase stand­ings, nine points ahead of Crafton and 10 ahead of Kennedy.

The se­ries moves to Texas and Phoenix in the fol­low­ing two weeks for the com­ple­tion of the Round of 6.

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