Green edges Sauter in Music City thriller

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

   GLADEVILLE -- David Green powered past Johnny Sauter on the backstretch on the last lap to win the Pepsi 300 NASCAR Busch Series race Saturday afternoon at Nashville Superspeedway.
   In winning, Green, the 1994 tour champion, became the first driver to score Busch Series wins on both the old fairgrounds speedway and this new facility in suburban Nashville.
   "I can barely remember anything about the last few laps," said the driver of the No. 37 TimberWolf Pontiac. "That was pretty exciting. Johnny Sauter raced me clean, but my car was excellent. It did what it had to do. I never gave up.
   "Randy LaJoie wanted to know what driving school I went to over the winter. I didn't go to driving school. I just got a great race team behind me."
   Green led four times for nine laps, getting his sixth victory in the series and his first since 1996 at Myrtle Beach, a span of 133 races.
   Sauter, posted his best run of the season, in the No. 21 Payday Kevin Harvick took to victory earlier in the year at Bristol.
   "I'm really disappointed," admitted Sauter, who had led the previous 22 circuits. "I thought our motor hurt us today and it didn't work out."
   The margin of victory was only car length with all top four finishers, the two aforementioned, third place Ashton Lewis and fourth place Mike Bliss all separated by less than a second.
   Saturday marked the first stand alone Busch race of the season and Lewis expressed relief at the absence of Winston Cup drivers.
   "I'm on the fence about Cup guys racing with us," said Lewis. "On one hand, it makes us better, but they get in their Cup cars and do qualifying runs and then get to jump in their Busch car. Then, they look like heroes. I guess I'm for them being there, but it gets frustrating. Maybe we can get better and start beating them week in and week out."
   For Bliss, last season's NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series champion, running fourth marked his best ever Busch Series finish. Rookie competitor David Reuitmann rounded out the top five, also scoring a personal best.
   Going into the race's final stages, it looked to be a battle shaping up between Bliss, Brian Vickers and Bobby Hamilton, Jr. That all changed after Vickers and Hamilton made refueling stops and were trapped in the pits when the caution came out for an accident by Jason Keller on lap 203.
   An action-packed race throughout, 15 lead changes among 10 drivers set a new track record, with Hamilton heading the pack for 68 laps. In addition, the caution flag flew for seven different incidents, with 35 of the race's 225 circuits run under yellow.
   Green and pole sitter Lajoie staged a furious battle for the lead in the early stages. Green passed LaJoie on lap 58, before LaJoie retook the top spot the following circuit. The next time by Green overhauled LaJoie, holding the lead the next six laps until Hamilton powered by.
   Tri-Cities-based drivers and teams had a variety of performances at the middle Tennessee track. Johnson City's Brad Teague ran as high as second place early in the race before going two laps in arrears with a flat tire on lap 44. Teague finished 23rd.
   Other area drivers were less fortunate. Team Bristol experienced early problems, but fought back as driver Hermie Sadler posted a 19th place finish. Bristol's Brad Baker was involved in the day's first accident on lap 24 coming in 41st place and Mike Potter of Johnson City was the last place car, completing only 11 laps.
   Other notables included Kerry Earnhardt, who finished 26th after spending 25 laps behind the wall with mechanical problems on lap 117, and points leader Todd Bodine, who came home in 13th.
   Bodine actually boosted his Busch Series points lead with Winston Cup regular Jamie McMurray, who was in second place coming into the event, not competing. Bodine now holds a 78-point advantage over the new runner-up Ron Hornaday with Green in third 85 markers back.
   Green, 45, who honed much of his racing skills in the Nashville area, was rewarded with a prize of $58,395 for his efforts. Next up on the Busch Series calendar is another duo weekend with Winston Cup, when they head to California for the Auto Club 300 on April 26.