Steady Sauter climbs to fourth in points By Brett Boren

SAN FRANCISCO (Dec. 10, 1998) Jay Sauter didn't have as many top-5 finishes in 1998 as NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series rivals Tony Raines, Jimmy Hensley, Stacy Compton, or Greg Biffle. He didn't have as many wins as Raines, Compton, or Mike Bliss. Nor did he have as many top-10s as Raines or Hensley. But Sauter was able to finish ahead of all of those drivers in the final standings. By being the most consistent driver in the series, Sauter was able to finish a strong fourth. Sauter's final numbers -- one victory, seven top-5s and 14 top-10s -- may not be as top-heavy as some of his competitors'. But the West Salem, Wis., native avoided the lows that those other drivers could not. His worst finish of the year was 24th, at the No Fear Challenge at California Speedway. Every other driver in the series had at least one finish worse than that, and in most cases it was two or more. The consistency achieved by Sauter and the No. 3 GM Goodwrench Chevrolet team was one of a couple of big improvements over the team's 1997 showing. In addition, Sauter dramatically improved his Bud Pole Qualifying efforts. Sauter's average starting position in '97 was 20.7. After taking a provisional to start the 1998 season-opening Chevy Trucks Challenge 250 at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, Sauter's average start the rest of the way was 11.88 -- nine spots he didn't have to make up on the track. After leading the DieHard 200 at the Milwaukee Mile in July, only to be involved in a spin that relegated him to a 14th-place finish, Sauter spoke of the team's new ally -- consistency. "I feel like this season is 100 percent better than last year," he said. "We have just got to get a little better luck going with us, and I am sure we'll see some wins soon." The next race on the schedule, the NAPA Auto Care 200 at Nazareth Speedway, saw Sauter match his best finish of the year, third place. Rough spots followed at California and Pikes Peak International Raceway (22nd), but after than it was smooth sailing for the black No. 3. In the season's final 14 races, Sauter's average finish was 9.4. In the last seven races, it was 5.4. Sauter battled Hornaday tooth and nail in the Memphis 200, but settled for runner-up honors. He followed that up with a third in the Ram Tough 200 presented by Pepsi at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill. Then came the victory that nearly everyone had seen coming. Before the NAPA 250 at Martinsville Speedway, Sauter's crew chief, Todd Berrier, shared that belief that victory was right around the next turn. "We have faith that winning is possible," said Berrier. "We've had some bad luck this year with wrecks and unforeseen situations, but we are still in the top-5. If we can continue like we've been doing the last few races we will finish this year on a positive note." Sauter benefitted from a late duel between Hornaday and Jimmy Hensley in the NAPA 250. As Hornaday and Hensley traded paint, Sauter traded positions with the two combatants, going on to the victory. It took some luck, but it also took a lot of savvy on the part of Sauter to seize the opportunity when it presented itself. "You can say that we were lurking around, but I think we were charging," said Sauter. "We were coming as hard as we could, and I say that we had enough time to overtake both of them in the last few laps. Our truck was awesome. Even before Ron and Jimmy started bumping and banging each other, we were making up ground. Really, we were about three-tenths of a second quicker than those guys were. Getting around them, now, that was a different story." Winning late in the year gave the story of Sauter's season a happy ending. He had won the year before at New Hampshire, but finished the season sixth in the points standings. Replacing Mike Skinner, who had been the series champion in 1995, meant that perhaps a little bit more than sixth was expected. In 1998, Sauter delivered, adding another victory while climbing two spots in the standings. There's still a ways to go to reach the lofty goals set at Richard Childress Racing, but Sauter seems to be on the way.

Source: NASCAR Online