As drivers battled for position behind him, Johnny Sauter pulled away his No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet during the final 10-lap run to win Friday night’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“We won Charlotte!” an elated Sauter screamed over his radio as he crossed the finish line 1.340 seconds ahead of Kyle Busch, who was frustrated in his attempt at a series-record tying 51st victory.
A few minutes later, in Victory Lane, Sauter, the pole winner, reveled in the significance of the victory, his third of the season and the 20th of his career.
“This is a tough place,” said Sauter, who turned 40 on May 1. “Everyone wants to win here. I never thought I’d win here. To win this race is just super special. I never thought 40 would be so good.
“This is the biggest race of my career, and I’ve won a lot of big races. We kept making adjustments on the truck all night and made it better and better.”
Sauter scored his 20th straight top-10 finish on a 1.5-mile intermediate speedway, a streak that includes four victories. He also scored points in the first two stages of the race (won by Brett Moffitt and John Hunter Nemechek, respectively) to run his string of in-the-money stage finishes to 30.
Busch’s effort was hampered by a pair of pit-road penalties, both incurred when members of his crew came over the wall too soon. Nevertheless, he twice came from the back of the field to finish second, passing Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate and third-place finisher Brandon Jones for the runner-up spot on Lap 133 of 134.
Asked how he managed to charge through the field, Busch said dourly, “Pure talent. That’s about it. My pit crew did absolutely nothing to help me out tonight. My truck drove like [crap] … But somehow, some way I was able to get back to the front. Had a blast.”
Moffitt ran fourth, followed by Ben Rhodes. Stewart Friesen, Parker Kligerman, Noah Gragson, Nemechek and Todd Gilliland completed the top 10.
Sauter took control of the race when he passed Moffitt for the lead on Lap 87, one circuit before Josh Reaume’s spin brought out the fifth caution of the race. Sauter went on to lead a race-high 71 laps and increased his series lead to 59 points over second-place Gragson and 65 over Moffitt in third.