The 2019 Gander Outdoors Truck Series kicked off NASCAR’s first and biggest weekend of the season at Daytona International Speedway last Friday (Feb. 15) night.
Two Wisconsin racers were included in the field, veteran Johnny Sauter of Necedah who returned to Thorsport Racing just days before the opening event and Natalie Decker, a native of Eagle River who was on the track for the second time in a week, having raced in the ARCA Menards event the previous weekend.
With little time to prepare before Qualifying, Sauter managed to put his #13 Tenda Ford F-150 17th on the grid and it was an eventful race before he was collected in a big incident that ultimately saw him finish 23rd. Sauter was never in the same position long, battling his way to the front of the pack in time to capture some valuable playoff points for winning the second stage of the race.
Shortly after though, Sauter was out of the racing line and moved well back into the pack which put him in a bad spot when a spin near the front affected a huge part of the field, including Sauter who never recovered.
The race was even shorter for Decker who put in a nice qualifying run and started 11th on the grid in her #54 N29 Technologies Toyota Tundra.
Soon after the race went green, Decker ran over a piece of debris that resulted an a flat front left tire.
Decker attempted to get back to the pits, but that can take a while on a 2.5 mile Super Speedway. Just as it seemed she would get the job done, what was left of her tire sliced through her brake line and the front of the car was suddenly engulfed in flames.
The job in her pit box immediately switched from getting the young racer back in the race to getting her safely out of the vehicle. Decker was uninjured, but clearly disappointed in her Gander Outdoor Trucks debut.
“It’s really heartbreaking that our night ended the way it did,” said Decker in a written team press release. “I wanted to get a good finish her and get our season started on the right foot.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t pan out that way. I’m not sure what happened. We hit the piece of debris that everyone else did, but when I lost my left front tire, the brake line broke and the truck burst into flames.
“(I am) Really thankful for my guys getting me out safely and for all their hard work this weekend.”
Both Sauter and Decker will be back for the Gander Outdoor Trucks race in Atlanta Saturday (Feb. 22) afternoon. Sauter is running a full season in the series while Decker is taking part in events in the Trucks Series, ARCA Menards, NASCAR K&N Pro Series and testing her mettle on the road courses with a schedule that includes five races in the Trans Am Series