MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Thursday night’s Camping World Truck Series race had a familiar ring for Johnny Sauter. The 43-year-old veteran — somewhat suddenly — was back in a ThorSport Racing No. 13, competing near the front of the field at a track where he had won four times before.
Any signs of rust were nearly non-existent for Sauter, who turned in a runner-up return in just his second Truck Series start of the season. The reunion with ThorSport, his longtime home, was announced just two days before the Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 200. Sauter made the most of it, picking his way from last in the 36-truck field and driving with confidence to finish second behind race winner William Byron.
“There’s a couple of times in the race tonight I thought I was getting wrecked, and a couple of times I made some mistakes in traffic, too,” Sauter said. “So I just knew it was gonna be a good truck. I knew on Lap 2 that the truck had good speed. I could just feel it. I’ve been doing this long enough to know, so nah, I’m not surprised that we started at the tail of the field and got where we needed to be. I just wish we had one more pit stop, and we could make one more adjustment.”
Sauter, the 2016 series champion, had been idle since a one-off start with G2G Racing in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. He landed the opportunity to return in a fifth ThorSport entry at Martinsville, with veteran crew chief Carl “Junior” Joiner making his first appearance of the year atop the No. 13 pit box.
Joiner’s successful 10-year run with driver Matt Crafton, who claimed three series championships during their partnership, had ended last year with ThorSport’s No. 88 team. Thursday night, the veteran crew chief’s return was every bit as solid as the driver’s.
“I had fun. We did good,” Joiner told NASCAR.com. “You know, for a crew that never races together and an old, retired crew chief and an old, retired driver, we did all right.”
MORE: Martinsville race recap
As far as the notion of retirement goes, Sauter ended Thursday night’s race on an upbeat note, hoping more races at his former full-time home might materialize.
“I mean, the whole plan was to run anywhere upwards of eight races or maybe less. It’s kind of up in the air,” Sauter said. “So we kind of just cherry-pick the race tracks that I like, and maybe one or two that (the crew) like. So hopefully it’s more than less, but I don’t know. It’s just fun to be with guys that really want to get it done.”
Though he didn’t lead any laps, Sauter found himself in position – avoiding the pitfalls from some of the race’s 11 caution periods and restarting on the front row down the stretch. His most recent Truck Series victory came nearly three years ago at Dover Motor Speedway.
“You know, there’s no question the last couple years haven’t been up to standard, shall we say,” Sauter said. “So it’s cool to take a step back and get reinvigorated and to have fun. You know, that’s what this is all about.”