BUSCH: Darlington: Johnny Sauter preview

Teamwork helps Sauter prepare for crucial weekend March 12, 2002 (Huntersville, N.C.)- Johnny Sauter heads into this weekend's NASCAR Busch Series event at Darlington Raceway having never raced on the historic 1.25 mile "egg-shaped" oval. But...

Teamwork helps Sauter prepare for crucial weekend

March 12, 2002 (Huntersville, N.C.)- Johnny Sauter heads into this weekend's NASCAR Busch Series event at Darlington Raceway having never raced on the historic 1.25 mile "egg-shaped" oval. But that doesn't mean the driver of the ACDelco Chevrolet isn't familiar with "The Lady in Black".

Sauter, a 2002 Rookie of the Year candidate, spent two days testing at "The Track too Tough to Tame" earlier this year. For most rookies, a test at Darlington means learning what not to do, by getting the infamous "Darlington stripe." But Sauter spent his time learning the secrets of the track from two experienced crew members, who have had great success in the past.

Crew chief Rick Viers, collected a ninth place finish in the spring event last year with Elton Sawyer, and then posted a runner-up finish in the fall. Viers concentrated on working with the setup and getting Sauter comfortable with the changes the car goes through on long runs. After the full tire and fuel run, Sauter and Viers got together and discussed how the car reacted and why, all to help the young driver better understand how important it was to race the track and not the other cars.

Special projects manager, Bobby Leslie, also helped Sauter a great deal. Leslie spent many years in victory lane with Mark Martin, one of the best drivers to ever race in the NASCAR Busch Series. He helped explain the importance of running the right line to Sauter and how critical it was for conserving tires, a must at Darlington Raceway. The veteran and the rookie watched how other cars approached the track from atop the ACDelco transporter, and discussed both the good and the bad of what they saw. Leslie has seen the good already in 2002, as he was crew chief of the RCR/DEI winning Busch car of Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Daytona in February.

Momentum is on the side of the ACDelco team. Sauter is coming off a career best, third place finish at Las Vegas. In fact, he was the only non-NASCAR Winston Cup driver to finish in the top-five. That finish in the desert propelled Sauter to sixth in points, just 40 markers out of first. And the team plans to stay "on a roll." In what usually turns out to be a difficult two-week stretch of the season for younger drivers, Sauter is poised to be a factor for the win at Darlington...thanks to a little help from his friends.

Johnny Sauter, driver of the No.2 ACDelco Chevrolet, Comments on Darlington Raceway:

What are your thoughts on racing at Darlington?

"I think it's pretty cool. The track has so much history and knowing that the all-time great drivers in NASCAR competed there is almost overwhelming. I am looking forward to the race, because other than the three "Darlington stripes" I got, we were really good. But Bobby Leslie told me if I didn't get a stripe, I wasn't trying hard enough. By day two I knew the limits of the track and my car."

What do you see as being the most difficult aspect of racing at Darlington?

"The hardest thing is getting caught up racing other cars and losing focus. The track has two different sets of corners. Turns one and two, you can drive pretty hard like most tracks. After the tires wear, your car slides a lot more, but it's wide and that helps. But three and four seem narrow and you must hit your marks. You have to finesse the car on that end and on long runs you have to really pay attention to which part of the track you are on. Did I mention the track is narrow? I don't know how we are going to run two-wide, but I have watched them do it, so I know it can be done. I just know you can't do it for long."

Rick Viers, crew chief of the No.2 ACDelco Chevrolet, Comments on Darlington Raceway:

How did the test go at Darlington Raceway?

"The test went really well. I have to give a lot of credit to Johnny (Sauter). He is such an exceptional young, aggressive driver and a quick learner. He listens well and gives great feedback. He and Bobby Leslie spent a great deal of time talking about how to get around the track and Bobby has a great feel for this track from working so many years with Mark Martin. By the second day, Johnny looked real comfortable out there and we were all very excited about how well he ran, and how much he improved."

What did you spend most of the time working on?

"We spent most of our time working on long runs in race trim. That is what really makes the difference here. Sure, you will get a lot of cautions, but it always seems like the cars which are fast on the long runs, dominate this event. With that said, I know Johnny can get it done on a short sprint, if it comes down to that. We also worked a little on qualifying. Not so much on bonsai or mock runs, but on getting Johnny use to the feel of the nose when it's taped up. They are two completely different feels, but he handled both really well. I think Johnny realized that you have to race the track and not the other cars. That has always been the key here and it takes most drivers three or four years to figure that out."

What are the goals for the ACDelco team at this stage of the season?

"These next two races (Darlington and Bristol) are crucial as far as points and momentum go. Every year, this is where the best teams break out and position themselves for a run at the championship. Sure it's still early, but these two races typically tear up a lot of equipment. I feel like if we can just keep the fenders on the ACDelco Chevrolet and finish both these races on the lead lap, then we have a great chance to come out of Bristol in the top-three in the point standings. If you are a lead lap car at the end of Darlington, then you usually are in the top ten. I can't recall a year in this series, when at least three to four of the top-10 cars in points, haven't crashed at Darlington, Bristol or both. For us, this is a very important stretch and we need to just finish races in one piece. If we do that, the points will take care of themselves. It's hard to keep momentum, when you're having to rebuild good race cars."


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Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Elton Sawyer , Johnny Sauter , Mark Martin