By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- His truck intact and headed in a straight line as most of the rest of the lead-lap trucks wrecked behind him, Johnny Sauter crossed the finish line first in Saturday's Fred's 250 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Talladega Superspeedway.
Behind Sauter: Chaos. Coming to the checkered flag with a huge run through the tri-oval, Jeb Burton spun off the bumper of Miguel Paludo and flashed up the track into the Toyota of Kyle Busch, who was pushing Dakoda Armstrong toward the finish.
Paludo's truck flipped over and slid on its roof down the front stretch, spraying sparks as the metal scraped the asphalt. In the aftermath of the melee, Busch sat dazed -- the wind knocked out of him -- with his back against the concrete wall in the tri-oval.
Sauter was the clear winner, having escaped the last-lap crash to win for the third time this season and the ninth time in his career. When NASCAR sorted out the rest of the finishing order, David Starr took second place, followed by Ross Chastain, Parker Kligerman, Dakoda Armstrong and Timmy Hill.
Off the final corner, series leader Matt Crafton was pushing ThorSport Racing teammate Sauter, Busch was shoving Armstrong, and Kligerman was pushing Chastain. Those three tandems appeared ready to settle the issue between them, before Paludo and Burton entered the fray and tried to force their way through the trucks ahead of them.
Paludo and Burton, however, ran out of room, and every other potential winner but Sauter ran out of luck.
"When we just crested the tri-oval there coming to the start/finish line, I saw smoke and trucks spinning everywhere," Sauter said. "I saw Matt was gone, and I was like, 'Uh-oh, this isn't good.' It's unfortunate. It would have been pretty cool to have a 1-2 finish, but what a great day for everybody at ThorSport."
After leaving the infield care center, Busch talked ruefully about a great superspeedway truck that left the track on a wrecker.
"It's all done for," he said. "It's unfortunate. The (truck) was really awesome. I don't know what happened. Somebody just came up from underneath me and hit me, turned me left, and then the wreck was on.
"When you see the checkered flag, and you see things going in front of you, you just keep your foot on it. I drove it all the way to the start/finish. I guess I knocked the wall down there on pit road. That wasn't very fun. There were a couple of really good licks that I took, so there's no sense in sitting in a hot vehicle, you might as well get out and get some fresh air."
Crafton, who finished ninth after spinning short of the stripe, expanded his series lead to 57 points over Ty Dillon, who finished 14th.
Justin Lofton, who was involved in the last-lap crash, was examined in the infield care center and transported to a local hospital for further evaluation.
1. (24) Johnny Sauter, Toyota, 94, $55685.
2. (25) David Starr, Toyota, 94, $42625.
3. (7) Ross Chastain, Ford, 94, $34270.
4. (18) Parker Kligerman(i), Toyota, 94, $20185.
5. (14) Dakoda Armstrong, Chevrolet, 94, $16860.
6. (27) Timmy Hill(i), Chevrolet, 94, $13085.
7. (19) John Wes Townley, Toyota, 94, $14785.
8. (2) Max Gresham, Chevrolet, 94, $14285.
9. (23) Matt Crafton, Toyota, 94, $14185.
10. (3) Kyle Busch(i), Toyota, 94, $13110.
11. (8) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 94, $13985.