Johnny Sauter wins NASCAR Truck race at Bristol

In this May 18, 2018 file photo, Johnny Sauter crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Truck Series auto race at Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C. (Terry Renna / Associated Press)

BRISTOL, Tenn. – Johnny Sauter took the lead with five laps left when John Hunter Nemechek slowed because of late fuel pickup issues, then held off Stewart Friesen on Thursday night at Bristol Motor Speedway for his fifth NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory of the season.

The 40-year-old Sauter wrapped up the series regular-season title by starting the race on the 0.533 oval, and went on to break a tie with Brett Moffitt for the series victory lead heading into the playoffs. Sauter won a week after losing the lead to Moffitt on the final lap at Michigan.

“I’ve never won at Bristol before, so I was pumped,” Sauter said. “I’m so lucky I’ve got this group of guys. We won at Bristol! This is the ultimate! For a short-track guy, and I consider myself a short-track guy, to get a win at a place like this is so special. I’m just pumped, and I can’t wait to start our championship run.”

Friesen finished 0.236 back, missing a chance for his first series victory.

“That was probably the most fun I’ve had all year,” Friesen said. “Bumping and grinding, and no better guys to race with than John Hunter and Johnny. We’ll take it and move on.”

Nemechek, the winner of the first two stages, ended up third. Parker Kligerman was fourth, followed by Todd Gilliland, Justin Haley, Ben Rhodes, Matt Crafton, Noah Gragson and Grand Enfinger.

Sauter, Friesen, Moffitt, Gragson, Haley, Rhodes, Enfinger and Crafton will race for the season championship during the playoffs, starting next week at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Bowmanville, Ontario.

Sauter has 22 career Truck victories and won the 2016 season championship. He enters the playoffs as the top seed, with 42 playoff points to 27 for Moffitt in second and 22 for Gragson in third.

“I’m so proud of this team,” Sauter said. “I knew we had a great truck today. What a way to cap off the regular season with a win. I had to race really hard with the 52 (Friesen) there for a while, which was exciting.”