Johnny Sauter No. 21 Allegiant Chevrolet Silverado
Johnny Sauter, driver of the No. 21 Allegiant Chevrolet, spent both of Thursday’s practice sessions at Charlotte Motor Speedway searching for balance. The team continued to make adjustments following final practice and improved on the handling enough for Sauter to earn a third-place starting position.
The Necedah, Wis., native took over the second position on the initial start and reported to crew chief Joe Shear, Jr., that he was slightly free. As the field worked through the first 42 laps of the 134 lap event, the Allegiant Chevrolet’s handling went in the opposite direction, becoming tight in traffic. The team stayed on track until the end of stage one when Sauter pitted from the second position for four tires fuel and an air pressure adjustment. With several trucks staying on track the No. 21 restarted from the 12th position. Within seven laps, Sauter was back in the second position and moved into the top spot on lap 55.
Sauter maintained the lead until lap 74 when he fell back to the second position with six laps remaining in stage two. Under caution the team made additional adjustments to help with the tight-condition during what would be their last pit stop of the night. Sauter once again worked his way through the field after a slow pit stop, from 17th to within the top three in just five laps. He slowly worked his way back into the runner up position, where he took the checkered flag for his career-best Charlotte Motor Speedway finish and his fourth consecutive top-three finish of the season.
Quote “It was a good night for us. I’ve made no secret about it, this is a place I’ve struggled in the past. We brought a truck that has been really good for us, including the win at Texas last year. Our Allegiant Chevrolet was phenomenal in that second stage and I thought the track was going to go free at the end and it didn’t. I just needed more front grip for that restart and I didn’t have it but we executed well. We’ve still got a lot of work to do but I couldn’t be more proud of the effort from everyone at GMS tonight.”
Additional Info – Sauter has increased his points lead and is now 15 points ahead of second-place Christopher Bell.
Justin Haley No. 24 Levine Children’s Hospital Chevrolet Silverado
Justin Haley and the No. 24 team spent both practice sessions working with a tight-handling balance. The team made major changes prior to Friday’s qualifying session but a slick track made Haley’s Chevrolet wrecking loose, relegating him to a 23rd-place starting position for the NC Education Lottery 200.
Haley started off the race reporting that his Silverado was very stable, gaining five spots by lap 12. He stayed on track through the first caution but as the field returned to green the driver reported that the No. 24 had become “horribly tight” in traffic and the high line. Crew chief Kevin Bellicourt brought his driver to pit road for four tires, fuel and adjustments to fix the handling while the leaders stayed on track. Haley finished the first stage in the 16th position and stayed out as the leaders pitted for adjustments, lining up sixth for the start of stage two. He continued to battle an extremely tight condition and returned to pit road on lap 70 for more adjustments, when Bellicourt reported that he believed something had happened in the front end to cause the handling issues to continue. He told his driver he would have to continue fighting throughout the remainder of the event, as they could only help with the handling and not fix it completely. The team continued to work on the Levine Children’s Hospital Chevrolet as the race allowed, pitting for the final time on lap 103.
Haley worked his way up to the 12th position with five laps to go before falling back on the final restart to earn a 17th-place result in his first start at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Quote “We struggled with our handling through practice and the race, but I’m proud of how this team fought through it to get us to the end. Once Kevin (Bellicourt, crew chief) told me something wasn’t right in the front end I knew that it was going to be a long night. We have a great team and GMS has fast trucks so I know it won’t be long before we’re finishing up front. It’s still early in the season, so we’ll just keep learning and building on what we’ve got each race.”
Additional Info – Haley is now 18th in the driver championship point standings after completing his third race of the season.
KAZ GRALA No. 33 Outlaw Fasteners Chevrolet Silverado
Making his first NCWTS start at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the No. 33 Outlaw Fasteners Chevrolet Silverado showed speed early on. Posting the seventh-fastest time in the opening practice session Thursday afternoon, and the 14th-fastest time in final practice, Kaz was averaging 10th overall heading into qualifying.
Securing a place in the final round of qualifying for the fifth time this season, Kaz grabbed the 12th starting position for Friday night’s North Carolina Education Lottery 200. Settling into the top-15 early on, Kaz radioed to his No. 33 crew early in the first stage that his Outlaw Fasteners Chevy was on the loose side which prevented him from being aggressive when passing other trucks. When the caution flag was displayed for the second time, on lap 34, crew chief Jerry Baxter called the rookie down pit road for four tires, fuel and adjustments to tighten up his Chevy Silverado. Restarting 19th with 4 laps left in stage one, Kaz was able to battle his way back to 13th before the stage concluded.
With varying pit strategy from the leaders, Kaz restarted fourth for stage two and held his ground for as long as he could before his No. 33 Chevy swung to the tight-side. Falling back through the pack, Kaz was running hard on the outside of the No. 99 for the 11th position. However, the No. 99 got loose, slid up the track, and collected Kaz, bringing out the caution on lap 61. The Outlaw Fasteners crew worked to repair the damage, and sent Kaz back on track in the 26th position, one lap down. Working his way into the “lucky dog” position with just over 10 laps left in stage two, Kaz radioed to his crew that something felt like it broke in the left rear. Moments later the No. 33 went around, sustaining damage that was too severe for the team to fix, relinquishing Kaz to a 30th-place finish for the night.
Quote “I just hate it for my guys, and for Outlaw Fasteners, that our night ended this way. There was nothing I could do during the first incident. The (No.) 99 just seemed to get loose under me, and it collected me in the process. The team did a good job making repairs, and I was in the lucky dog position, but something felt like it broke a couple laps later and around I went. I feel like I learned a lot from tonight but that I still need to keep working on running well at the mile-and- a-half tracks.”
Additional Info – After the fifth race of the season, Kaz is currently eighth in the NCWTS point standings, 103 points behind the leader, but has one win and five bonus points towards the playoffs.