Kyle Busch crossed the line first, but Necedah Wisconsin native Johnny Sauter chased him right to the finish in the Ultimate Tailgating 200 Gander Outdoors Trucks Race at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday (February 23) night.
Busch made history with the win, his 52nd career Trucks Series win, passing Ron Hornaday Jr. as the winningest driver ever.
But just over a week after securing his ride with Thorsport, Sauter – a 21-time winner himself, showed he is more than comfortable in his #21 Tenda Ford F-150 as he has run at the front of the pack in both races so far this season, finishing second at the Atlanta race.
Wisconsin’s other racer, Natalie Decker, finished 25th, bouncing back from a rough ride at Daytona and running to the end of the Atlanta race, although an early spin left her a couple laps off the pace.
The learning curve is steep for the 21-year-old Eagle River native who had never raced on the Atlanta bullring before. After a first lap exit at Daytona though, the young hotshoe is gaining valuable experience with her DGR Racing Team #54 N29 Technologies Toyota Tundra.
Weather played a factor in the race with rain threatening throughout and making a late appearance which saw a lengthy delay before a five-lap dash to the checkers.
Sauter sat third on the restart, but that put him on the bottom of the track which moved away from the other half immediately, pushing him to the runners up spot. Sauter ran wheel to wheel with Busch with a few laps to go but couldn’t stay with him in the end.
“We had a shot and I really wanted to deliver a win,” said Sauter in a Thorsport Press Release.
“We just didn’t get it done. I was pushing him and he was doing a good job of blocking. I just didn’t think I could get there. If I went to the top, I wouldn’t have had enough momentum. It’s a good start for the #13 Tenda Ford-150 though. I’m happy with the effort.”
Sauter qualified 12th for the race and sat fourth at the end of the first and second stages.
The second place finish moves Sauter to fourth in points and the team is also fourth.
Decker used the first two practice sessions to get used to the mile-and-a-half Atlanta track and she missed out on another shot as rain forced cancellation of qualifying.
Decker started 16-the the grid but shortly after the race went green, Decker made contact with another truck and spun into the wet infield. She made it back to her pit box but lost two laps due to her struggles. She was ranked 27th at the end of both the first and second stages and gained a few spots due in part to attrition as she remained patient and consistent and made some passes along the way as well.
Decker was disappointed with the spin, but also chalked it up to experience on a tough track.
“Atlanta was definitely the hardest track I’ve ever been to, but I felt like I learned a lot this weekend,” said Decker in a DGR Team press release.
“It was a bummer that I got spun out right away. That put us two laps down and at a track like Atlanta, it’s tough to recover once you go laps down.
“One positive of being in the back was that I was able to be back there and learn how to pass trucks and navigate traffic. I really think the experience of learning how to pass will help us a log in Vegas. Initially, I wasn’t even supposed to race in Atlanta, but I’m glad we did so I could get some more laps and experience.”
Both Sauter and Decker will be in the field at the Strat 200 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway beginning Thursday with a pair of practice rounds, then qualifying at 4:10 p.m. (CST) Friday afternoon and racing under the lights with an 8 p.m. start.