All Johnny Sauter had to do was start the UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway in order to become the regular series season champion. However, he wanted more and did more as he earned his fifth win of the season after fending off his GMS Racing ally, Stewart Friesen.
“This is awesome,” Sauter said after the race, “the history of this place. I flew into Charlotte yesterday morning to stop by the shop real quick and then did my normal tour to Bristol. I stopped at North Wilkesboro and just walked around, and drove up through the countryside, just was like, maybe if I don’t overdrive it this year, I’ll have an opportunity to win, so just proud of everybody at GMS on this GMS fabrication. Sunseeker, ISM Connect, Allegiant Travel Chevrolet, just can’t thank everyone enough. This is so cool!”
When the UNOH 200 began, Sauter was crowned the 2018 regular series season champion. Playoff bubble driver, Grant Enfinger, clinched a Playoff spot by starting the race as well.
Stage 1 went to lap 55.
Only two incidents took place during the first stage. On Lap 12, the No. 30 of Scott Lagasse Jr. spun around on the fronstretch to bring out the first caution. Then on Lap 25, the No. 04 of Cory Roper spun out after having a little bit of help in Turn 2.
John Hunter Nemechek took the lead on Lap 32 after the restart on Lap 30. He was able to hang on and win the first stage followed by Sauter, Enfinger, Christopher Bell, Ben Rhodes, Parker Kligerman, Stewart Friesen, Ross Chastain, Noah Gragson, and Justin Haley.
Race leader Nemechek and a couple of others stayed out to maintain their positions as leaders for the beginning of Stage 2 on Lap 66. It didn’t take long for a caution to come out, however, as Todd Gilliland spun around and had contact with Jesse Little. During that caution, the No. 52 of Friesen, clinched a spot in the Playoffs.
With the restart on Lap 73, there were no more incidents for the rest of Stage 2 until after the checkered flag. This saw Nemechek win Stage 2. As Nemechek took the win, Myatt Snider, who was on the outside looking in, had his night ruined, as he crashed and hit the wall on the frontstretch.
The final stage and the race resumed with 77 to go with Sauter as the race leader.
Sauter held on momentarily but Gragson passed him to lead for seven laps. Then, Stage 1 and 2 winner Nemechek, passed Sauter for the lead on Lap 177. During this long stretch of a green flag run, Bell lost the power steering and his night was over, finishing in the 28th position.
With heavy lap traffic starting to come into play, Nemechek closed in on Sauter with 27 to go and Nemechek assumed the lead with 23 to go. Sauter and Friesen battled with each other side-by-side with 10 laps to go, allowing Nemechek to pull away.
Unfortunately, something happened to the No. 8 of Nemechek and he slipped back to third, with Sauter taking the lead and Friesen close behind him. Sauter was able to breathe easy as he held off his GMS ally for his fifth win of the year and his first since Texas in June.
With the race win tonight, Sauter picked up 20 points but is carrying over 42 Playoff points into the postseason.
“Well yeah, he (Nemechek) had a problem,” Sauter said. “The 52 (Friesen) was racing me really hard there and not quite sure, can’t wait to watch that on how we got back by him. Just good hard racing, short track style. This is such a cool way to end the regular season with a win. Obviously, getting the championship in the regular season. Now hopefully this carries some momentum towards the end here. I just got too tight. I tried to get around those lap trucks running through the middle. Even in practice earlier today, I just couldn’t quite complete the corner, I couldn’t get it to cut. So, I knew the bottom was my only chance, but the lap traffic was just all over the place. Just can’t thank everybody enough. I’m so pumped right now, I’m going to let this one soak in for sure.”
This was Sauter’s fifth win of the season. Sauter led three times for 58 laps. There were five cautions for 38 laps, along with six lead changes among four drivers.
The Playoff card is now set with Sauter (2042 points), Brett Moffitt (2027 points), Gragson (2022 points), Rhodes (2014 points), Friesen (2012 points), Enfinger (2011 points), Haley (2009 points) and Matt Crafton (2003 points) all competing for the 2018 Truck Series championship.