ThorSport Racing driver Johnny Sauter has some good history at Daytona International Speedway, just not in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. But he's hoping two veteran teammates will help reverse his recent trend at "The World Center of Racing" in Friday's NextEra Energy Resources 250.
Sauter's set to debut ThorSport's No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota Tundra in the 14th annual Daytona season-opener for the NCWTS, but he's hoping his NASCAR Nationwide experience at Daytona comes into play.
"Given my recent history, it's hard not to think about crashing when I think about Daytona," Sauter said with a chuckle. "I've come close in the Nationwide Series, but the Truck Series has just kind of been a tough row to hoe.
"I've raced Daytona enough to know that luck has a huge presence and either you're on the right or wrong side of that when it comes to getting crashed. If you're watching anywhere, pick your bathroom breaks very carefully -- it could be on lap 1 or it could be on the last lap -- I've had it happen both ways in a three-year period."
Qualifying hasn't been a problem for Sauter, who's raced full-time in the Truck Series since 2009, when he won the NCWTS Rookie of the Year Award in his debut season with ThorSport. He started in the top 10 his first three Daytona attempts but was wrecked on the first lap in 2010 and was leading last year when eventual winner John King turned him around coming to the white flag in a race that eventually ran nine extra laps and had four caution periods in the last 10 laps.
"I hate to say this, but 80 percent of what happens at Daytona is out of your control -- so either you're lucky or you're not," Sauter said. "I can give you millions of examples -- just look at last year with John King, or James Buescher going into Turn 4 on the last lap in 11th and winning the Nationwide race. No matter how people try to paint a different picture, it's a big game of luck.
"But no matter how bad the past is, you've just got to block it out. This is a new season, we're starting from scratch -- everybody is -- so obviously everybody's expectations are high. But (crew chief) Joe Shear Jr. and I know we've got what it takes to contend for this championship, and a win at Daytona."
Sauter's Daytona career highlight came in 2004 when he started 22nd in the Nationwide season opener and drove through the field to end up on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s rear bumper. Sauter's Pontiac had nothing for the acknowledged superspeedway master Earnhardt's Chevrolet that day, but a championship-caliber list of drivers followed Sauter across the line, including Robby Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, David Stremme and Ron Hornaday Jr.
Sauter had only one teammate in that race, former NASCAR Busch Series champion David Green, but at Daytona 2013 Sauter will have support from his longtime ThorSport partner Matt Crafton, in the No. 88 Slim Jim / Menards Toyota and new teammate Todd Bodine in the No. 13 Mattei Air Compressors Toyota.
"For all intents and purposes that's good for trying to get a ThorSport truck into Victory Lane," Sauter said of the possibilities presented by the triad of veterans. "Obviously you can't deny Todd's history, with all the wins he's got on the speedway stuff, and Crafton and myself always seem to run well.
"We just always seem to get caught-up in somebody else's mess so, I don't know. Hopefully we can all get hooked-up together and go race and have a good run. Hopefully somebody can pull off the win for ThorSport."
The biggest adjustment for Truck Series fans will be the black-and-red livery of his newly-numbered ride. In 98 of his previous 108 career starts Sauter's driven the No. 13 now piloted by Bodine, but the new scheme is important to Sauter and listed team owner Mike Curb.
"To have The Carolina Nut Co. on our Toyota trucks is obviously a win-win -- it's great exposure for the sponsor and awesome snacks for everybody from our team to all the fans out there," Sauter said. "Changing our number is good for Mike, because his Nationwide car, his Sprint Cup car and a lot of his short-track stuff is all No. 98. So it's really cool for Mike to have, I guess you'd call it that brand awareness that when you see a No. 98 race truck or car it's probably affiliated with Mike Curb.
"I've said it 100 times -- from where I'm sitting I don't even know what number I'm sitting in, I'm just happy to be sitting in something and going racing. But it's something special for Mike and all the fans out there watching."
The NextEra Energy Resources 250 is scheduled for a 7:30 p.m. ET start on Friday. Live television coverage is on SPEED Channel and MRN Radio has the live radio broadcast.