Johnny Sauter missed a shift and broke an engine early in Happy Hour practice Friday for the SFP 250 at Kansas Speedway, the fourth race of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series' season, but Sauter still ended the day with the fastest of three ThorSport Racing Toyota Tundras.
And Sauter, who won here in 2010 in a spectacular, fender-banging finish with Ron Hornaday, had two confident teammates right behind him in anticipation of Saturday afternoon's race.
Sauter's No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Tundra turned just six laps in Happy Hour before the Truck Series' championship leader missed a shift, broke a valve spring and went to the garage for what might've been the first unscheduled engine change since ThorSport switched to Toyotas at the start of the 2012 season.
Despite the lack of laps, Sauter was fifth on both practice sessions' time sheets -- trailing defending Truck Series champion James Buescher in both. Sauter was the best ThorSport truck by far, as third-place championship runner Matt Crafton's Ideal Door / Menards Tundra was ninth in the opening practice but 19th in Happy Hour.
Todd Bodine, who comes into the Kansas round 14th in the championship, was 22nd in the opening 170-minute practice before improving to 15th in the 80-minute Happy Hour with the benefit of a drafting run with Crafton at the very end of practice.
In qualifying Saturday morning at 11:05 a.m. ET, Crafton's scheduled to go out 18th of the 36 trucks -- a full field in which all the entrants qualify. Bodine will go out 22nd and Sauter, who under the current Truck Series rules will start in his qualified position without having to go to the rear for an engine change, will qualify 32nd.
"The truck's obviously got speed and I wish I didn't break the motor before I got a chance to run with some more trucks," Sauter said while his team beavered away on the engine change late Friday afternoon. "But typically when they drive good by themselves, they'll drive good in the draft."
Kansas Speedway, whose 1.5-mile layout was repaved last summer in addition to being reconfigured with progressive banking in the corners, allows the trucks to run wide-open for a full lap -- with the goal being to achieve that lap after lap. And with that, drafting, and being able to run efficiently with other trucks, is critical.
"I did a little bit of running around other trucks, but not to the extent I wanted to," Sauter said. "What're you gonna do? I think we've got everything we need in this truck. I think it feels really good in the corners, obviously and the motor's running good down the straightaway.
"So I think we got both ends covered, pretty good. Knock on wood we haven't broken a Triad engine, yet and (Friday's problem) was self-induced. We already ran the engine (Friday evening) so it won't have any effect on qualifying -- these things are bullet-proof nowadays."
Bodine is on a run of three consecutive top-five finishes at Kansas, and the 2005 race winner here is enthused about his chances after he and crew chief Jeriod Prince arrived at their final set-up.
"The last run we got pretty good and I was real happy with it," Bodine said of his half-dozen laps running in tandem with Crafton. "I drafted with Matt and got up behind him and it didn't push. That's really good because it's really hard to do here. With more trucks it'll get worse, but every corner I would gain on him and that's what you've got to have.
"If you catch a draft you pick up two or three tenths (of a second). Actually, drafting with Matt we picked up half a second. The draft is so big if you're half a straightaway back you can pick-up two-tenths. That's why you can't go by the times on the board. You can, to a certain degree -- you know who's good and who's not -- but you have to wait til we line up for qualifying and go out for one lap by ourselves."
Crafton said his crew got off on a tangent in Happy Hour that didn't work out, but both he and Sauter were confident of getting back where they needed to be.
"We've just got to get our truck a lot better than second practice, but we have a pretty good idea where we went wrong," Crafton said. "We've got a good group of guys that hopefully will make all the right changes so I think we'll be fine."
"We didn't get to make a mock (qualifying) run so we're kind of shooting in the dark on what adjustments to make as far as track bar and air pressures," Sauter said. "But we'll look at what our teammates have done and the rest is history."