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Eldora presents challenge for Ohio NASCAR Truck team

Johnny Sauter leads the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series with two wins in nine races. Teammate Matt Crafton holds the top spot in the CWTS points standings.

So, what are the chances ThorSport Racing — Ohio’s only full-time NASCAR team among the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and the Truck series — can bring home a winner at Eldora Speedway on Wednesday?

“I hope Tracy Hines can do that,” Sauter said with a laugh, referring to the dirt specialist who will drive ThorSport’s third truck at the inaugural Mudsummer Classic, NASCAR’s first race on dirt since 1970.

“That would be really cool because it’s essentially a home game. Who knows? As crazy as things have been, whose to say you couldn’t go in there and win the race? I think it’s one of those races you’re going to be very happy with how it went or very disappointed.”

Sauter doesn’t expect his competition to come from the other 35 drivers. His will come from Eldora itself. With a recent test his only dirt experience, Sauter doesn’t plan on pushing the limits on Eldora’s high-banked, half-mile oval.

“For me the mentality is go race the race track all night. I can’t get caught up in whose running what kind of lap time,” Sauter said. “I think the biggest thing is focusing on myself and making sure I don’t make any mistakes. … I think you’ll have a couple hot dogs come in and put the show on. The rest of us are going to be in survival mode. My mentality is try to keep it in one piece and I think we’ll have a decent finish.”

Crafton, meanwhile, has dirt experience racing modifieds, mini sprints and micro midgets. But having never seen Eldora — except for what he’s been able to pick up off the Internet and talking to other drivers — he’s not sure what to expect. That’s an uncomfortable spot for the Truck points leader.

“You know as much as I do, to be totally honest,” Crafton said. “It’s all an unknown. We’ve got an idea how the trucks are going to handle, but that’s about it.”

Both Crafton and Sauter tested at Oakshade Raceway near Toledo to prepare. Another test awaits them at Eldora, this one coming from late model great Scott Bloomquist, dirt track veterans Ken Schrader and Kenny Wallace and NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Ryan Newman. They’re also goin’ trucking.

“They put their pants on the same way we do,” Crafton said. “Some of those dirt guys are going to have an advantage of knowing what the track’s getting ready to do when it goes through its changes. But driving it like your dirt late model? It’s going to be so different.”

That’s what worries Sauter. Don’t expect the 3,400-pound trucks to be pulling off slide jobs and getting sideways in the turns the way the late models and sprint cars do, he said.

“I don’t think it’s going to be quite the dirt show everybody is anticipating. And I could be wrong,” Sauter said. “I just don’t think it’s going to look like a dirt late model out there. Just from myself and talking to some of the other guys who have tested on dirt, if you get a truck so far sideways it just spins out because it’s so heavy.

“It’s going to be hard to pass unless someone is just that much better. That’s my opinion. If you spin out, you’re going to lose track position and that’s going to really affect your night. I feel like there are going to be a lot of people spinning out because they have to get to that feel, that edge, of feeling how far you can actually get it sideways before it takes off on you.”

Both Sauter and Crafton are glad to see Eldora added to the CWTS schedule. Should Eldora be a success with the fans and sponsors, the trucks could be kicking up dirt again in 2014 and beyond.

“I’m going to hold judgment to see how our first race turns out,” Crafton said. “It’s neat if it does put on a great show, and I hope it puts on a great show, but at the same time I’m going to hold judgment until we put on that first race.”

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