JOHNNY SAUTER SURVIVES WILD RACE TO WIN LUCAS OIL 150 Defending series champion sets the stage for championship finale at Homestead-Miami   BY:  AMY DULEBOHN



Johnny Sauter, driver of the No. 21 ISM Connect Chevrolet Silverado for GMS Racing, didn’t need to win at Phoenix Raceway to advance to championship finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but he still made a statement to his fellow Championship 4 competitors by taking home the victory in the Lucas Oil 150.


“It feels pretty damn awesome,” said Sauter, whose victory at Texas Motor Speedway last week clinched his spot in the season finale. “I just can’t thank these guys at GMS enough. Our ISM Connect Chevy was really good on the long run. Those red flags at the end, I was a little suspect about it. But I knew if I got a good restart, I could get down into Turn 1. That was my strong suit all night, getting down into Turn 1, and it set me up for a good launch off the corner. I’m just so proud of everyone at GMS, Chevrolet, Hendrick horsepower. That’s fun.”


This is Sauter’s first career victory at Phoenix in nine starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He has five top fives and seven top 10s, but his previous best finish was second in last year’s Lucas Oil 150.


The championship picture was drastically changed on lap 129,when contact between the No. 19 Ford of Austin Cindric and No. 27 Toyota of Ben Rhodes sent Rhodes and his ThorSport teammate, Matt Crafton, to the garage. Crafton had already clinched his spot in the Championship 4 on points, but Rhodes was unable to advance after the incident. Cindric claimed the final Championship 4 slot by 12 points.


“[Cindric] was making a risky move with a lot of racing still to go,” said Rhodes, who finished 20th. “The inside lane wasn’t moving the fastest. I could’ve made the same move, but I chose not to because it wasn’t the right time. When you do that here at Phoenix, it’s not very wide in Turn 1, it’s a sharp turn. He didn’t even have position on me. He just barely had his nose looking. I think had he done that, regardless, it would’ve caused a wreck. I just don’t think it was the right move and we’re just going to move forward to Homestead. I don’t really have a whole lot of words for him right now.”


The race appeared to be a two-man battle between Kyle Busch Motorsports teammates No. 4 Christopher Bell and No. 18 Noah Gragson. The pair led a dominant 145 of 150 laps, and were battling side-by-side for the lead in the closing laps. But on lap 142, Gragson got loose under Bell and spun out, collecting Justin Haley. Gragson and Haley did not finish the race, and Bell had to pit due to damage, taking both trucks out of contention.


Luckily for Bell, while he did miss out on the win, the 22-year-old driver had already locked himself into the Championship 4 by the end of Stage 1 due to his playoff points, making him the second driver to clinch. Crafton guaranteed his place by the end of Stage 2, and Cindric earned the final spot.


John Hunter Nemechek, needing a win to advance to the Championship 4, finished second. Rounding out the top five were Cody Coughlin, Chase Briscoe and Kaz Grala.


The first two stages were relatively calm, with only one non-stage-end caution on lap 76, when Grant Enfinger lost a tire and hit the wall in Turn 1. But the last 30 laps featured four cautions and three red flags.

Saturday’s event, the Ticket Galaxy 200 NASCAR XFINITY Series race, will begin at 1:30 p.m., local time.