Sauter wins at Martinsville to make Truck series championship race

MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) — Johnny Sauter earned a spot in the Truck Series championship race with a victory Saturday at Martinsville Speedway.

The win was the second of the season for Sauter and 12th of his career. He held off Chase Elliott in the closing laps to preserve the win in the Truck Series' inaugural Chase.

"I feel like we are peaking at the right time," said Sauter. "I feel like we've kind of saved some of our best bullets, so to speak, for the end, and we can go and really work hard on our Homestead piece for these next couple weeks.

"But I'm a racer - I think we all are - and we're not just going to hang out these next two weeks. We want to win races, but we're in a luxurious spot, I guess you'd call it. I want to win a championship. I've been doing this a long time, and have won races, but a championship is something that's eluded me."

Elliott, making his first Truck Series start of the season, was racing only to gain track experience for the Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday. He led a race-high 109 laps.

"Coming back to the checkered (flag) was probably my best opportunity to get him, but you have to be careful. Those guys are racing for a championship," Elliott said. "Some days it's not worth wrecking a guy or whatever.

"I wish we could have got him, but I feel like I learned a lot to help me in Sunday's race."

Four of the six Chase drivers finished in the top 10. John Hunter Nemecheck, Christopher Bell and Timothy Peters rounded out the top five, while Daniel Suarez was sixth, followed by Cole Custer and William Byron.

Daniel Hemric and Austin Hill rounded out the top 10.

Sauter now has three career victories at Martinsville in the Truck Series.

Chase driver Matt Crafton had issues with about 50 laps remaining when he developed brake problems. It led to a 17th-place finish and he's now fifth in the Chase standings.

"I smelled it at one point and kept feeling something going on with the brake pedal and finally it went away," Crafton said.

Ben Rhodes and Ben Kennedy made contact late in the race and Kennedy wound up 18th. He's sixth in the Chase standings, and he confronted Rhodes in the garage after the race.