NASCAR is once again in another rock-and-a-hard-place scenario where they could possibly be suspending a driver for a reckless retaliatory move during a caution. NASCAR’s punishments have been wildly inconsistent when it comes to situations like these, although one may argue that they handle it on a case-by-case basis.
That said, regardless of case-by-case or situational inconsistencies, Johnny Sauter’s temper could lead to him having to sit out a race or two, not unlike Matt Kenseth following his Martinsville punt of Joey Logano in 2015. Sauter’s retaliation on Austin Hill didn’t knock Hill’s No. 16 out of the race, but it was still at speed under caution, which in itself is a no-no.
One could say Sauter brought this on himself. He was frustrated with slower traffic in Hill and bumped him out of the way, as one does on a smaller track. Hill returned the favor a bit too hard, sending Sauter into the wall. Was the ball in Hill’s court at this point? Yes. Could Sauter have held off until after the race to let Hill have it? If only.
Instead, Sauter made a point to chase Hill down, ram him, put him in the wall, ram him again, and push his truck a distance on the track, under the caution. In this case, Sauter is now the one who made a mistake, and now it is Sauter who must face repercussions. Every action has a consequence, and as unfair as he may think it is, the sanctioning body must act.
For that matter, what he did was wrong and not thought out at all. He acted on impulse, which isn’t something that should be done in a race car. Chasing another driver down just to ram them and try to wreck their vehicle out of anger is an extremely careless action, and is a slap in the face to the team back at the shop, who already have to take care of otherwise unintentional damage. That’s added work that didn’t need to be in the first place, and isn’t it the driver’s job to take care of their equipment?
Sauter is an extremely capable driver who knows how to achieve success behind the wheel. He’s a champion with an amazing record in the sport as is. But that said, he’s also a temperamental driver, and that’s a vulnerability. In that regard, a suspension could be the apt approach the sport could take.
It wasn’t a matter of Kenseth knocking the fire out of Logano, or Carl Edwards putting Brad Keselowski upside down at Atlanta in 2010. But it wasn’t Cole Custer/Austin Dillon at ISM Speedway in 2017, or Clint Bowyer/Ryan Newman at this year’s All-Star race at Charlotte. Sauter chased down Hill on the track during slowed racing conditions and tried to end Hill’s day. That’s something that the Kenseth/Logano precedent should cover with a suspension.
In a perfect world with a perfect approach, Sauter would have waited until the race was over to square up with Hill. Talk a little trash, shove a little bit, etc. Instead Sauter let his pride get the best of him and as a result shot himself and his ThorSport team in the proverbial foot; this is after Sauter snubbed Hill when the latter tried to approach him to discuss their contact from the previous week at Texas.
Regardless, it’s isn’t an enviable position that NASCAR is in. Sauter is one of the biggest names in the truck series, and he brings in his share of the fans. A race without Sauter in the trucks isn’t where NASCAR wants to be, but if it drives home the valid point that issues shouldn’t be settled with a bumper. Hopefully they’ll all learn their lesson when all is said and done.