Johnny Sauter wins 1st Truck Series championship
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — The fourth time, in a field of four, was the charm for Johnny Sauter.
Sauter won the inaugural Chase in the Camping World Truck Series with a strong third-place finish at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He beat Matt Crafton, Christopher Bell and Timothy Peters in a race in which the highest-finisher among the four drivers would win the championship.
For Sauter, who finished fourth in the standings the last three years, the format produced his first career NASCAR championship. He did it in his first year with GMS Racing after leaving Thorsport Racing.
“I think a lot of people questioned that move,” Sauter said of his move to the young race team.
He wasn’t sure he had a strong enough truck to get to the front until the last segment of the race.
“With 50, 60 (laps) to go, I was like ‘We really got something here’ and I started picking people off,” he said. “I’m just a small part of this deal. The whole team executed flawlessly tonight.”
The 38-year-old has had a career year driving the No. 21 Chevrolet for GMS Racing. He won three races, had 12 top-five finishes and a dominant run in the Chase. Sauter won back-to-back races at Martinsville and Texas, and was runner-up at Phoenix last week. Sauter’s 13 career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victories tie him for 11th most all-time in series history.
Crew chief Joe Shear Jr. moved to GMS Racing to work with Sauter and the pairing delivered a title.
“I knew they had all the pieces in the puzzle, I knew it was a great fit or I wouldn’t have done it,” Shear said. “It’s just unbelievable. This is the greatest thing in the world.”
William Byron won the race — his seventh victory of the season — to wrap up the owner championship for Kyle Busch Motorsports. It was bittersweet because it likely should have been Byron celebrating the driver title.
Byron was headed toward the win last weekend at Phoenix that would have put him in the final four, but his engine blew in the closing laps. He was eliminated from title contention after the failure.
“It feels awesome. It’s incredible,” Byron said of the win. “This team has worked hard all year. Just had an unfortunate situation last week that we couldn’t control.”
Busch collected the championship trophy for the second consecutive year and fifth overall.
“Such a spectacular season by William Bryon, they were flawless, all the way up until Phoenix,” Busch said.
Tyler Reddick, driving his final race for Brad Keselowski, finished second. He’s moving to an Xfinity Series ride next year for Chip Ganassi.
Kyle Larson finished fourth, but led a race-high 76 laps.
Crafton, a two-time Truck Series champion, was denied a third title after finishing seventh. He and Sauter waged a decent battle for position during the race, but a poor final run cost Crafton.
“I kind of figured it was a matter of time. We were just really bad on that last run for whatever reason,” he said.
Bell finished eighth in trying to win the driver title for Busch.
“Overall, it wasn’t really our year,” he said. “Just wasn’t quite good enough all year long.”
Timothy Peters was ninth and the lowest-finishing driver of the title contenders.
“Hey, all in all, we said in the beginning of Daytona that we wanted a shot,” Peters said. “We had that down here, and we came up just a little bit short. We know what we need to do over the off season, and can’t wait for Daytona.”