Long before the green flag fell in Martinsville on Saturday afternoon, ThorSport Racing had declared war on the rest of the Camping World Truck Series.
In a piece that was aired during Speed Channel’s broadcast of the pre-race show, driver Matt Crafton and others declared it would be he and teammate Johnny Sauter battling for the championship come November. And if Saturday’s performance was any indication, that might not be a far off prediction.
Sauter won for the second straight time, backing up his victory in the season opening race at Daytona. Crafton scratched and clawed his way to a second place finish, giving ThorSport two of the three spots on the podium.
“Very good for ThorSport Racing. It just shows what this team – the ThorSport Racing organization – what we’re going to have this year in 2013,” said Crafton afterwards, sticking to his season statement.
“We’re going to be a championship contending team – both of us, Johnny and I. This Menards truck was terrible in the first run, but it just shows up good these guys are working on this truck and it was there at the end.”
Neither Crafton nor Sauter were much of a factor during the first portion of the race. Crafton started eighth but went backwards in a hurry, falling to 21st by the time the first caution flew on lap 58. He never cracked the top 10 again until the pay window opened and the race wound down its final 50 laps.
Fresh tires helped propel Crafton into the top five behind Sauter, who drove away with the lead and the win.
“We had a terrible truck on the very first run. We almost went a lap down. That just says never die that this Menards ThorSport team has,” said Crafton on his run and the numerous adjustments crew chief Carl Joiner made.
“We saved our set of tires there to the end and it was go time. It was great for Johnny and them to be over in Victory Lane, but man I thought we were going to have something for him and I was just a little bit too free on that last run to try to run him down. It was one heck of a show hopefully.”
Sauter did his part to contribute to that show, powering his way past Rookie Jeb Burton with on the outside with 17 laps to go. Burton had dominated the event to that point, leading the most laps while Sauter ran comfortably with the leaders for much of the event.
With rubber not taking to the track, it was much more a driver’s responsibility to take care of his truck. Crew chief Joe Shear said Sauter is “growing up with me” because he did an excellent job in saving his equipment. The No. 98 Carolina Nut Company / Curb Records Toyota was fast he knew, but Sauter made it that much faster when it mattered most.
Sauter also admitted that tire wear made a difference.
“Tire wear was amazing. Tires were really falling off so I wasn’t sure how hard to push it there when we were sitting 18th I think with 80 laps to go after the pit stop and I thought, ‘Oh boy, I got my work cut out for me,’” said Sauter.
“Just proud of Joe and all these guys – everybody at ThorSport. A great day for us – a one-two finish and I’m standing here with my second clock at Martinsville – this is unbelievable.”
Sauter became the first driver since Mark Martin in 2006 to start the CWTS by winning the first two races. And both he and Crafton are sitting exponentially better in points than they were a year ago. Heading to Rockingham next Sunday, Sauter is the point leader with Crafton sitting on his heels in third.
And whether it’s putting the bad luck and poor 2012 season behind them, getting over their Achilles heel or just finding those missing pieces, Sauter and ThorSport know there’s a long season ahead.
“This is great to start the year off with two in a row and I couldn’t be prouder. We still have 20 races left and there’s a lot that can happen,” said Sauter.
“We just need to keep it all in focus and take it all in stride and go to Rockingham where we finished fourth a year ago and go in Kansas where we’ve won in the past. A lot of good race tracks coming up for us – we just have to keep everybody grounded and keep everybody hungry.”