Johnny Sauter's become well-versed in reality in his long racing career, and nowhere is that more relevant than at Dover International Speedway, this weekend's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series venue for Friday afternoon's Lucas Oil 200.
"For sure, it's probably the funnest racetrack we go to," Sauter said without hesitation. "We've just had a lot of really bad luck there. We usually qualify really well and we're running in the top five all day and for whatever reason we just can't seem to get to the finish."
Sauter's average start in four career races at the "Monster Mile" is 4.5. But even though he has three lead-lap finishes in those four starts, Sauter's yet to lead a lap and his average finish is 13.75. The driver of ThorSport Racing's No. 98 Carolina Nut Co. / Curb Records Toyota is at a loss to explain it.
"There are racetracks where you can't really put your finger on why the things that happen, happen," Sauter said. "Martinsville used to be that way, for me. I'd go there for years and really haul -- but have nothing to show for it on paper. It looks like it was one of my worst racetracks and statistically, it probably was for the longest time, even though we didn't feel that way, when we looked at how we ran there.
"I'd have to say Dover's about the same way. The numbers are just not indicative of how we run there, so all you can do is continue to put your best effort forward -- and that's what we do every week. It's no different than a lot of racetracks, in that you have to be smart all day and take care of your stuff, but there are some racetracks where you can't seem to do anything right, and I think a lot of that is luck."
Sauter and his ThorSport crew need to do everything they can to get their luck pointed in the right direction at Dover. Performance hasn't been much of an issue this season, with Sauter winning the first two races and having four consecutive top-five finishes. But after he was intentionally wrecked by James Buescher in the last race at Charlotte, Sauter's sixth in the championship, 37 points behind teammate Matt Crafton.
And that's what makes Sauter and his ThorSport Racing team's record at Dover so frustrating. His best Dover Truck race was his 2009 debut, when he started fourth and finished fifth. His best start is third, in 2010.
This weekend, Sauter's crew once again will be led by truck chief Jesse Saunders and Dan LeMasters, Sauter's four-year truck chief who came off the road at the beginning of this season to be with his young family but who went back out at Charlotte to crew chief with Saunders, "by committee" as crew chief Joe Shear Jr. continues to serve a four-race suspension.
"It's different, there's no question about it," Sauter said of not having the crew chief with which he's won races in NASCAR's Busch and Truck series and the 2001 ASA championship. "Joe puts so much into this program and he's always with us -- whether he's physically there or not.
"Jesse and Dan and all the boys are really good, and they ultimately were the ones that were able to pick up the slack, and I think it went off pretty well (at Charlotte), all things considered. It wasn't our best run, for sure but it was going to be a decent night and I think that's just going to make us better in these next couple races without Joe."
Shear is due to return to the track for the Iowa race in early July and no matter how well Sauter runs at Dover, Texas -- where he and Shear swept both 2012 Truck Series races -- and Kentucky he can't wait to have Shear's familiar voice back in his ear.
"It's been an adjustment," Sauter said. "You want to call out into the radio, 'Hey Joe, what about this...' And if you're sitting in the truck during practice and you come up with an idea you're just so used to calling (Shear) to the window and talking about it. So it's just different, but we're adjusting and making it work, and I just need to do a better job of being in the game and giving the guys the information they need to make the truck better, and I will do that at Dover."
The weekend opens up Thursday afternoon with a pair of Truck Series practices, from 2:30-3:45 p.m. ET and 4:15-5:30 p.m. Truck qualifying is at 10:05 a.m. Friday, with live coverage on the SPEED Channel.
The season's sixth of 22 races, the Lucas Oil 200 is 200 laps and 200 miles. It's scheduled for a 5 p.m. Friday start and for the second consecutive year SPEED will have live coverage preceded by The Setup pre-race show at 4:30. MRN Radio has live coverage, also beginning at 4:30.