Johnny Sauter, new crew chief combine for big win at Michigan in fastest race in Trucks history

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Johnny Sauter held off ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton in the closing laps to win Saturday’s Career for Veterans 200 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series at Michigan International Speedway.

It was the fastest race in Truck series history.

In a way, it was a trifecta for the Necedah, Wisc. native:

* He earned his first win of the season and it was the first race and win with Sauter for new crew chief Jeff Hensley, who just joined the team.

* It was his 10th career win in the Truck series and his first since winning 15 races ago at Talladega Superspeedway.

* He leaves Michigan as the points leader in the Camping World Truck Series standings, leading Crafton by nine points.

“This is just a great, great day,” Sauter said after the race on FoxSports 1. “I can’t thank the Good Lord and being blessed enough.

“We’re just now past halfway (in the season). This is great, this is the momentum we needed to swing it. We’ve had a good year, but not a great year. We’ve been consistent and finally got some speed this weekend.”

As for Hensley, his debut couldn’t have gone any better.

“It’s huge, it really is,” Hensley said. “To get this opportunity with ThorSport, it was a dream come true. It was a good career move for me to come up here and work with these guys. … It’s amazing, to win and leave here with the points lead is a big thing.”

Crafton gave it everything he had, but just couldn’t quite catch his teammate.

“I thought we were definitely a top-3, top-5 team,” Crafton said. “All in all, not a bad day.”

As for finishing behind his teammate and is also right behind Sauter in the standings, Crafton added, “1-2, it can’t get much better.”

Ron Hornaday Jr. finished a career-best third in the event, followed by Tayler Malsam with a career-best finish and Kyle Busch in fifth.

Busch, who led at halfway of the 100-lap event, made a great recovery after running out of gas on Lap 53 and falling back deep into the pack. He coasted onto pit road and into his pit stall, but lost valuable time when it took several attempts to re-fire the engine after his Toyota was refilled with fuel.

Sixth through 10th were German Quiroga Jr., Timothy Peters, Jeb Burton, Joey Coulter and Joe Nemechek.

Bubba Wallace finished 11th, followed by Jason White, Spencer Gallagher, Tyler Young, Bryan Silas, Mason Mingus in 16th, Austin Dillon, Joey Logano, Ben Kennedy and Jennifer Jo Cobb.

Rounding out the rest of the field were Ryan Blaney, Norm Benning, Justin Jennings, Jimmy Weller III, T.J. Bell, Travis Kvapil, Todd Peck, Adam Edwards and Caleb Roark.

As for the overall series points standings:

Former points leader Ryan Blaney dropped two spots in the standings to third after the race. He’ trails Sauter by 16 points, followed by Ron Hornaday Jr. (19 points back) and Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. in fifth place (36 points back).

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F1 2017 driver review: Sergio Perez

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Sergio Perez

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 11
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P4 (Spain)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 1
Points: 100
Championship Position: 7th

While failing to hit the podium as he did in both 2015 and 2016, Sergio Perez once again finished the year as Formula 1’s leading midfield team driver, but faced a greater fight from within Force India in the shape of Esteban Ocon.

Perez has long been knocking on the door of F1’s top teams should an opportunity come up, and 2017 saw him continue his solid if unspectacular form. The dominance of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari meant any finish higher than seventh was impressive, something he managed to do on five occasions.

But there were some missed opportunities along the way, most significantly in Baku. Force India had been quick all weekend, with Perez charging to sixth on the grid, and when drama struck at the front, he and teammate Ocon were eyeing a podium finish as a minimum.

Contact between the two forced Perez to retire and prompted Ocon to pit for repairs, leaving the team without the top-three finish it targeted heading into the season. With Lance Stroll taking P3 for Williams and Daniel Ricciardo winning the race, a maiden victory for Force India was not out of the realm of imagination.

Perez and Ocon came to blows on a number of occasions, with the final straw coming in Spa when they twice touched on-track, prompting Force India to introduce team orders. Perez finished the year 13 points clear of Ocon in the final standings, meeting his own pre-season target of 100 points, yet the Frenchman had arguably made the bigger impression at Force India through his first full season in F1.

Force India remains the top underdog in F1 with Perez spearheading its charge, but it is difficult to see either taking the final step to becoming true contenders at the front of the field anytime soon, as solid as their displays have been.

Season High: P4 in Spain after retirements for the ‘big three’.

Season Low: Losing a sure-fire podium, if not a win, in Baku after contact with Ocon.