HANK KURZ Jr.
AP Sports Writer
MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Johnny Sauter passed Jeb Burton for the lead on a restart with 17 laps to go Saturday and won the NASCAR truck race at Martinsville Speedway.
It was his second victory in as many races in the series this season.
Sauter earned his eighth career victory in the series, and second at Martinsville.
"Two for two starting out. This is unbelievable," Sauter said in Victory Lane.
He got there by passing Burton, the pole-sitting rookie making just his seventh start in the series, on the outside following a restart on lap 234, and then holding on as the field behind him battled.
Likely challengers included rookie Darrell Wallace Jr., who was seventh in the field on the restart, and Kevin Harvick, who was 12th.
Both had tires that were 50 laps fresher than the leaders, but with Matt Crafton and Timothy Peters among the drivers also in contention, they dueled while Sauter drove away to win by 1.888 seconds.
Crafton rallied to finish second and Burton was third, followed by Peters and Wallace, another rookie.
"I had to time it just right. That's the key," Sauter said of his pass for the lead.
The move was part of a calculated tire strategy that worked to perfection. Sauter and his crew chief, Joe Shear, noticed that the 0.526-mile oval was not developing the rubber buildup as it came off tires, keeping it harsher than normal and making it imperative to protect his tires for a final surge.
Sauter said he spent the first half of the race driving at about 80 percent, trying to maintain a respectable place in the field and stay in position to make a run for the front when the time came.
"At about 40 or 50 to go, I put the hammer down and just started picking them off," he said.
The performance drew high praise from Shear.
"He's not really known for saving equipment," he said of Sauter.
Crafton, who like Sauter was not a factor for much of the race, said his team deserved the credit for his finish.
"We dropped the green and I was good for about five laps, and then it was just done," he said of his truck, necessitating several stops to pit road for adjustments. "We just made it a practice session."
"We kept making methodical changes and it was there at the end," Crafton said.
The day was especially eventful for Burton, the rookie who said he wept when he won the pole in track record time on Friday, and had the dominant truck for much of the day, leading a race-high 154 laps.
He also engaged in a brief battle for the lead with Ron Hornaday, a four-time champion in the series, and eventually ran into the back of Hornaday, sending the veteran slamming into the wall.
"I ran in a little too hard and got into him. There's not much else to say," Burton said.
He also thought he cost himself a chance by trying to win the race too early, on a restart after Wallace, Harvick and several other contenders had just pitted for tires, dropping well back in the field but sure to surge forward.
"I thought it was 40 to go and it was actually 60 to go," Burton, the son of former NASCAR driver Ward Burton and nephew of Jeff Burton said.
It was his seventh start in the series, and second at Martinsville. He was 13th last fall.
"We came a long way in a year's time," Burton said.
Hornaday rallied to finish 10th.
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