The bad blood from Martinsville was still flowing through Johnny Sauter’s veins when Ron Hornaday Jr. slid into the side of Sauter’s truck on the back stretch of Kansas Speedway.
The contact, with 13 laps to go in Sunday’s NASCAR Camping World Trucks Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 250, sent both trucks, going about 150 mph each, careening sideways, and Sauter’s tail even struck the wall. “I’m thinking ‘That dirty bugger Hornaday got me again, twice within a month’s time ’” Sauter said, referring to an incident at Martinsville earlier this season.
Remarkably, both Sauter and Hornaday maintained control of their Chevrolets and kept their positions on the track. And Sauter, a day after celebrating his 32nd birthday, stretched his lead on Hornaday and won his first race of the season and second of his trucks career.
“My biggest fear when he got into me after I saved it, straightened it out, and kept going, was, this is either going to be either really bad because the toe will be knocked off, or I’m going to have a flat tire,” Sauter said.
“I took the next two laps and kept taking it easy, thinking I was going to have a flat tire. I thought, if we don’t get a caution we’ve got this race won, but if a caution came out, me and Ron would have both been in trouble because our trucks had so much damage.”
The last 13 laps were caution free, and Sauter, a day after celebrating his 32nd birthday, beat Hornaday by 5.032 seconds in front of a crowd estimated at 43,500 that had to wait out a 90-minute rain delay in the middle of the race.
At Martinsville on March 27, Sauter was running second when Hornaday ran into him, knocking Sauter back to a 15th- place finish. After Sauter qualified third on Saturday, he said, he “owed one” to Hornaday, the pole sitter.
“Me and Ron have always had animosity, even when we’re drinking beer,” said Sauter, a veteran of Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series racing who collected $46,950 for his first trucks win of the season and second of his career.
“Ron’s a hard racer, and everybody knows that. When you can beat him, you feel like you have beaten the best, and you can appreciate it more. At Martinsville, he got into me, but at the end of the day, that’s racing. Who’s to say some day I won’t make a mistake?”
Hornaday led 43 laps early in the race and had just regained the lead in front of Brian Ickler and Sauter when the race was red-flagged after the 114th lap of the scheduled 167 laps for rain and hail, the second straight year, inclement weather wreaked havoc at Kansas Speedway.
“I saw a couple of sprinkles when I was running second, I said, ‘Hey, it’s starting to mist out here,” said Hornaday, the defending trucks series champion. “And when I got the lead, I was really screaming, ‘Hey it’s raining out here. I was hoping it would (continue to) rain.”
Hornaday lost the lead when he had to pit because of a left quarter panel that kept rubbing his left rear tire, and Sauter finally took the lead for good with 19 laps to go.
And then, here came Hornaday, barreling into his side.
“You hate to do that,” Hornaday said. “Johnny is a hard racer, and we race hard together. I’m glad both of us didn’t wreck. I had a good run on Johnny. Two lapped trucks were running side by side, and I lost the nose real bad, and when you lose the nose, you put a lot of steering wheel into it, and it made the thing loose, and I got into Johnny. I’m just glad he saved it. Both of us saved it. it was good racing.
“That’s what the trucks series is all about ”
Todd Bodine, running third, thought the Sauter-Hornaday collision was his ticket to victory lane.
“They were too far away from me to see it,” said Bodine, who finished third. “All I heard on the radio was ‘They’re wrecking each other, keep going, keep digging’ I knew you get those two together racing for the lead, and something is going to happen. They’re both pretty tough competitors.”
Hornaday said the impact blew his right rear tire and he wouldn’t have been able to catch Sauter after they collided.
But had Hornaday passed him, Sauter was ready to cash what he owed Hornaday.
“I can’t say the thought didn’t cross my mind,” Sauter smiled. “You always heare the saying, ‘Drivers never forget.’ But you don’t want to be stupid either. I’m not a vengeful guy or would want to hurt Ron or wreck Ron. We’ve raced together too long
“That’s the way Ron races. The intent is not there. If someone got hurt .. that would be bad.”