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Sauter Back In NASCAR Nationwide Series With Phoenix Racing

Johnny Sauter

The off-season brought some changes to Johnny Sauter’s (No. 1 Miccosukee Resorts Chevrolet) life.

On the personal side, he got married in December. Professionally, he returned to the NASCAR Nationwide Series following a one-year hiatus to race in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

But with the change came one constant – his return to the NASCAR Nationwide Series reunited him with owner James Finch and Phoenix Racing, the organization he competed for during the 2005-06 seasons.

Two of Sauter’s four career poles and one of his three series wins have come while driving for Finch, as has one of his top-10 finishes in the final series standings (eighth in 2006).

Despite the fact Sauter had success last year in NASCAR Sprint Cup driving for Haas-CNC Racing, he was seeking another ride at season’s end.

“Teams and owners do what they feel they have to do to get their programs going in a different direction,” Sauter said during the lunch break Sunday at Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona. “Last year was a good year. We did what we set out to do and accomplished some goals. I’m a firm believer that you can’t get ahead looking back, so why do it?”

After a topsy-turvy 12 months, the Necedah, Wis., native approached his return to the NASCAR Nationwide Series with a matter-of-fact outlook.

“You go back to Wisconsin and spend a couple of weeks in the off-season and see your buddies working in 10-20 degree weather building houses,” he said. “It’s a reality check for you. Racing’s great; I love it and I don’t consider this work.

“It’s 2008, a new year. I’m back in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and it’s going to be good. I don’t care what series I run in, I just want to run well. I feel like I can win some races this year and that’s what it’s all about for me. It’s right around the corner and I’m ready for 35 weeks.”

He seems ready – he’s been fast through the first three sessions of testing, ranking in the top 10 among the quickest drivers in each session. His top lap of 183.846 mph (48.954 seconds) came during Saturday’s afternoon drafting session.

Now with his professional career settled, he can fully appreciate his newlywed status.

“So far, so good,” he said of married life. “I’ve never had so much food in my fridge at home. It’s a welcome change. Everyone you talk to says to run the other way but I never listen to a whole lot of people.

“Seriously, life is good.”

Uncertainty Doesn’t Stop Keller … Jason Keller (No. 11 CJM Racing Chevrolet) is hopeful that his 10-race schedule originally set to begin the season holds true and he can continue building on his series-record 422 starts. He set the mark previously held by Tommy Houston – who was inducted into the National Motorsports Hall of Fame on Jan. 19 – last October.

“Right now I’m a little uncertain of the future but that doesn’t mean that it can’t change in one phone call or one situation,” Keller said.

CJM Racing didn’t run any of the three restrictor-plate races last season so Keller is working hard to prepare for what he hopes is his first season-opener at Daytona in two years. Always one of the most-prepared drivers in the garage, a possible switch in plans hasn’t caught him off-guard.

“I’m doing a test deal for Gillett Evernham and I think it’s going to expand somewhat as the season goes on,” he said.

Different Look at JGR in 2008 … The owner of Joe Gibbs Racing stepping away from his NFL Hall of Fame coaching career to return to the NASCAR garage isn’t the only change the organization will undergo this year. The team switched from Chevrolet to Toyota in the off-season and is working to gain familiarity with the new manufacturer.

This Camry is new to us, but we're very pleased with it,” said Dave Rogers, crew chief of the No. 20 Old Spice/Armor All/Z-line Designs/Goody’s Toyota that will be driven by Tony Stewart and newcomer Joey Logano. “We had a big test plan, and our guys have been working really hard to execute (it).  We're definitely learning a lot."

Rogers has been given the task of gaining information without his regular drivers as former NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Mike McLaughlin is handling the testing for the team at Daytona.

“Mike is a good friend of mine, so it's fun to work with him,” Rogers said.  “I was Tony’s race engineer for a number of years, so I'm familiar with both drivers for this test and the Daytona race. If you look at the driver lineup (we have) for the season, I don’t have a whole lot to complain about. Most people won't have an opportunity to work with the caliber drivers I will get to this year."

Coach Keller Racks Up The Wins ... Jason Keller is certainly proud of his NASCAR accomplishments. But when asked about his recent off-season activities, his pride turned directly to his children, son Joe (11) and daughter Jade (9). Both play on basketball teams – coached by their dad. Keller was quick to point out that each had won their respective games on Saturday night before he departed for Daytona and NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing.

“I was as much worried about making my basketball team better as I was race cars,” he said. “But it’s time to race and I’m ready to go.”

Pit Stops ...  Sunday’s Preseason Thunder test sessions featured an overlap of drivers – the final day of Session I and the first day of Session II. The session took place under cool but steady conditions following a day of inclement weather. Tim McCreadie (No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet) posted the fast time of the NASCAR Nationwide Series test sessions to date with his 180.032 mph (49.991 seconds) lap during single-car runs on Sunday morning. Rookie Bryan Clauson (No. 41 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Dodge) continued to impress during his first visit to Daytona with a lap of 179.172 mph (50.231 seconds), which was fifth-fastest in the morning session. Clauson has been ranked in the top 10 in each of the first four sessions.

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