Sauter continues Madison dominance

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Troy A. Bruzewski, Special to the Gazette
Monday, July 29, 2013

MADISON-A mid-pack starting spot and a few caution flags only delayed the inevitable.

Travis Sauter moved to the front early in Sunday's Triple Crown Challenge super late model event at Madison International Speedway and was nearly untouchable as he won his ninth consecutive start at MIS.

He started the race 14th with Edgerton's Casey Johnson leading the field to the green flag. Johnson claimed the lead on the opening lap and held it until a lap-four caution forced a restart. Cambridge's Dale Nottestad moved into second on the restart and tried to challenge Johnson for the lead.

Meanwhile, Sauter was moving quickly through the field.

Two weeks ago, Sauter won the second round of the TCC with faulty brakes. He wanted to avoid having a similar issue this time around.

"The last time, we just wore (the brakes) out," Sauter said. "I was trying to take it easy on them. The cooler weather this time helped."

He gained eight positions in the first four laps and moved into third on lap 14, behind Nottestad. The two fought for the second spot, with Sauter gaining the position just before the race's second caution on lap 28.

The restart placed Johnson and Sauter-both No. 5 cars-side by side to battle for the lead. When the field returned to green-flag racing, Sauter needed only a few laps to get past Johnson and put some distance between himself and the second-place car.

But multiple leads were washed away with a string of caution flags.

The race was slowed four times over a 27-lap period, erasing Sauter's leads and giving Johnson a few chances to regain the lead on a restart. However, Sauter was strong on restarts and was able to maintain the lead after each green flag, if not regain it soon after. As the race approached the mandated 10-minute break with 25 laps remaining, Sauter again had a sizeable lead.

Teams are allowed to make chassis and other adjustments during the break, giving the field a chance to improve their cars and catch Sauter in the remaining 25-lap sprint to the finish.

"It's a bit of a head game during these breaks; you never know what they'll do to get their cars better," Johnson said. "It makes it interesting to see what happens (in the final 25 laps)."

Bickle and Johnson-two Edgerton natives-were in position to challenge Sauter when the race returned to green. But while they fought for second, Sauter opened a five-second lead.

Johnson eventually prevailed in the battle for second, but wasn't able to keep pace with Sauter.

"I was hoping (Sauter) would screw up and I'd get a chance (for the lead)," said Johnson, who added he was glad to have the points lead heading into the finale in six weeks.

Bickle backslid slowly, dropping to sixth. Beloit's Bobby Wilberg was able to crack the top five in the closing laps, despite having malfunctioning brakes for much of the race.

"I was just trying to not spin out," he said. "We may have had something for them at the front, but we basically had no brakes."

Wilberg finished fourth, behind Nick Murgic in third. Gary LaMonte completed the top five. Nottestad finished 17th.

Despite winning two of the first three TCC events this year, Sauter is fifth in the points standings. He missed the first event, which was won by Johnson-the current points leader at 309. Murgic is second at 265, and Bickle is third with 256.

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