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Sauter Collects Inaugural Truck Chase Crown

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 19 2016
Johnny Saunter was crowned 2016 Camping World Truck Series champion on Friday in Homestead, Fla. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Johnny Sauter was crowned 2016 Camping World Truck Series champion on Friday in Homestead, Fla. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Harold Hinson)

Growing up as one of 12 children in a racing family, Johnny Sauter learned early-on what it means to compete…for everything.

Sauter, a son of legendary Midwest short-track racer Jim Sauter, added to the family legacy Friday Camping World Trucks Series logonight when his third-place finish in the Ford EcoBoost 200 secured the 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

An eight-year NCWTS veteran, Sauter prevailed in the series’ inaugural seven-race Chase format in the Championship 4 round featuring two-time champion Matt Crafton (seventh),  rookie Christopher Bell (eighth) and quiet veteran Timothy Peters (ninth) at the South Florida track.

William Byron, knocked out of the Chase by an engine failure last weekend at Phoenix International Raceway, rallied to post his seventh victory of the season to secure the series’ owner’s championship for Kyle and Samantha Busch. Byron also was named winner of the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award. Along with his seven victories, Byron tallied 11 top-five and 16 top-10 results.

But the night clearly belonged to Sauter and longtime crew chief Joe Shear Jr. In nine previous starts at HMS, Sauter had claimed one victory, two top-fives, six top-10s and an average finish of 11.7.

“To be a champion…five years ago tonight, my old man was down here with me when we won the race, so this is for him and Joe Shear’s dad _ great Midwest racers,” Sauter said post-race. “My family’s here, my kids (Penn Joseph, Paige and Anne) are here, my wife (Cortney) is here, just an awesome night. Proud to be champion and will do everything in my power to represent NASCAR and Camping World the best we can.”

Sauter matched his career-high in wins this season with three (also 2013) and set a personal best in 
single-season top-10s with 19. Sauter’s 13 career Truck Series victories _ including Chase wins this season at Martinsville Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway _ have him tied for 11th most all-time in series history.

Sauter qualified 19th _ worst among the four Chasers _ in a 32-truck field for the 201-mile/134-lapper around the 1.5-mile layout featuring progressive banking in the corners from 18 to 20 degrees.

“I just ran a smart race,” said Sauter, driver of the No. 21 Allegiant Travel Chevrolet Silverado fielded by team-owner Maurice Gallagher of GMS Racing, LLC. “I’m not going to lie _ when we qualified as poorly as we did today I thought this was going to be tough to do because you’ve got to take tires here on every pit stop.  There’s no real easy way to get track position, so I knew we were going to have to do it by pit stops and passing people. 

“I was pretty conservative at the start of the race, just trying to take care of it and not make any stupid mistakes. And then with probably about 85 laps to go I’m like, ‘OK, I’m going to start picking ‘em off here.’ Just had a solid day in the pits. Joe made great adjustments to where I could just hang on. I’m not a high-line guy, so I just elected to keep doing my deal and actually found some pretty good grip on the bottom of the racetrack.

”With like 50 or 60 to go I was like, ‘OK, we’ve got something here.’ We were really catching the No. 88 (Crafton) _ looked like he was pushing really bad. Just so proud of these guys. I’m a small part of this deal. We executed like we needed to tonight. This is awesome. Bringing it back to Wisconsin.”

A 38-year-old native of Necedah, Wis., Sauter is the brother of NASCAR racers Tim and Jay Sauter and the uncle of Travis Sauter. “This championship means a lot to me, but it means a lot to my family,” Sauter said. “I can’t thank the Gallagher family enough for giving me this opportunity. It was a leap of faith to come here over the offseason.”

Sauter announced in October 2015 he would be leaving ThorSport Racing after a seven-year tenure for GMS _ a move that paid immediate dividends when he won the 2016 season-opener at the high-banked, 2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway.

I think a lot of people questioned that move,” Sauter said. “To be honest, the first time I met the Gallagher family and heard what they were all about and had a conversation with Mike Beam (competition director) and saw what they were trying to build and trying to establish it was a pretty simple choice for me. Obviously, to get back to a Chevrolet was key to me; I grew up in a GM family.

“When you walk through our shop in Statesville, North Carolina, and you see what kind of people we have working there…that’s what I saw the first time I went there and I thought this is something I absolutely want to be part of.”

GMS is in its third year of operation. Six of GMS’ seven victories were scored this season. Five different drivers have won at GMS _ Sauter, Austin Dillon, Grant Enfinger, Ben Kennedy and Kyle Larson. Fourteen different drivers have competed for GMS, with 10 scoring at least one top-five finish. Housed in a 100,000 square-foot facility in North Carolina, GMS competes fulltime in the Truck Series with drivers Sauter, Spencer Gallagher, Enfinger, Kennedy, Shane Lee and Kaz Grala. GMS Racing also competes in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with Spencer Gallagher.

Once in the Chase, Sauter breezed through the Round of 8 with three consecutive top-10s. Sauter emerged as the driver to beat during the Round of 6 via his back-to-back wins at the half-mile Martinsville Speedway oval and TMS’ high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval in Fort Worth. Those wins were followed by a runner-up result at the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway last weekend to set the stage for his championship-clinching performance at HMS.

Sauter made his first series start on Aug. 20, 2003 at the half-mile Bristol Motor Speedway. He scored his first pole on June 5, 2009 at TMS, followed by his first win on Sept. 26, 2009 at the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway en route to being named Truck Series Rookie of the Year.

Sauter’s previous-best championship finish was as runner-up in 2011 with ThorSport Racing, home to former teammate Crafton. Sauter is the eighth Chevrolet driver to win the NCWTS championship, joining James Buescher (2012), Austin Dillon (2011), Ron Hornaday Jr. (2009, 2007, 1998 and 1996), Jack Sprague (2001, 1999, and 1997), Travis Kvapil (2003), Mike Bliss (2002) and Mike Skinner (1995).

“Congratulations to Johnny Sauter and the No. 21 Chevrolet Silverado team on clinching the 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway tonight,” said Jim Campbell, US Vice President of Chevrolet Performance Vehicles and Motorsports. “We couldn’t be more proud for Johnny to earn his first title behind the wheel of a Chevrolet.” 

Mike Helton, NASCAR vice chairman, presented the driver and team-owner championship trophies to Sauter and Kyle and Samantha Busch, respectively. “Johnny, the Sauter name is not new to NASCAR and you did it very proud this season, particularly tonight,” Helton said. “So on behalf of NASCAR and all your fans and all the fans of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, we’re honored to make you our 2016 champion. You’ve earned it and congratulations.”

Busch, the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, celebrated his fifth Truck Series owner’s championship in seven seasons and a record fourth consecutive thanks to Byron’s win in the No. 9 Liberty University Toyota Tundra. “Certainly congratulations to Johnny Sauter and all the guys at GMS,” Busch said. “They put out some fantastic trucks this year. It’s been fun racing against that bunch as well as the rest of the Final Four. Having Christopher (Bell) out there was certainly a treasure that we had today and we wanted to make sure that it could get to this level right here, but we missed a little bit.

“Overall, just a spectacular season by William Byron and the whole No. 9 team. It’s truly an honor to be able to accept this award on their behalf and we’ll come out next year swinging and seeing if we can’t get Christopher Bell back to this stage again.”

Byron, meanwhile, ended his brief tenure at KBM in Victory Circle after qualifying on-pole. Byron is headed to the NASCAR Xfinity Series fulltime in 2017 to drive a Chevrolet Camaro in a collaboration between Rick Hendrick of Hendrick Motorsports and Dale Earnhardt Jr. of JR Motorsports.

“God, I hate leaving this _ I just hate this team not being together next year,” Byron said. “It’s just insane how good they are and so many talented people on this race team. Every single person is so talented. Sometimes I look around the garage and our pit stall and I just think about all the good people on our race team led by Rudy (Fugle, crew chief) and just an awesome truck that we brought to Homestead. We would have loved to be in the driver’s championship, but it feels awesome to get a seventh win for this team. It’s just amazing.

“Before this race, we knew we had a lifelong bond between all of us. I mean, it’s just been an incredible season. I’ve learned so much. They didn’t know what to expect, I think, with a rookie driver. They were like, ‘What’s this kid going to do?’ so I just tried to prove them right all year. We just had an awesome year, so no better way to finish it off at Homestead like this.”


NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race – Ford EcoBoost 200

Homestead-Miami Speedway

Homestead, Florida

Friday, November 18, 2016

  1. (1) William Byron #, Toyota, 134.
  2. (7) Tyler Reddick, Ford, 134.
  3. (19) Johnny Sauter (C), Chevrolet, 134.
  4. (3) Kyle Larson(i), Chevrolet, 134.
  5. (18) Daniel Hemric, Ford, 134.
  6. (17) Daniel Suarez(i), Toyota, 134.
  7. (4) Matt Crafton (C), Toyota, 134.
  8. (8) Christopher Bell (C) #, Toyota, 134.
  9. (13) Timothy Peters (C), Toyota, 134.
  10. (2) Cole Custer #, Chevrolet, 134.
  11. (6) John H Nemechek, Chevrolet, 134.
  12. (22) Matt Tifft #, Toyota, 134.
  13. (20) Rico Abreu #, Toyota, 134.
  14. (14) Ben Kennedy, Chevrolet, 134.
  15. (10) Noah Gragson, Toyota, 134.
  16. (16) Cameron Hayley, Toyota, 134.
  17. (24) Austin Hill, Ford, 134.
  18. (12) Jesse Little, Toyota, 134.
  19. (9) Brady Boswell, Chevrolet, 134.
  20. (11) Ben Rhodes #, Toyota, 134.
  21. (5) Spencer Gallagher, Chevrolet, 134.
  22. (21) Scott Lagasse Jr(i), Chevrolet, 134.
  23. (23) Grant Enfinger #, Ford, 134.
  24. (30) Jordan Anderson, Chevrolet, 134.
  25. (27) Austin Wayne Self #, Toyota, 133.
  26. (29) Alon Day, Chevrolet, 131.
  27. (32) Travis Kvapil, Chevrolet, 131.
  28. (28) Reed Sorenson(i), Chevrolet, 130.
  29. (25) Stewart Friesen, Chevrolet, 128.
  30. (31) Spencer Boyd, Chevrolet, 128.
  31. (26) Patrick Staropoli, Chevrolet, 125.
  32. (15) Ryan Truex, Toyota, Engine, 49.

Average Speed of Race Winner:  129.747 mph.

Time of Race:  1 Hrs, 32 Mins, 57 Secs. Margin of Victory:  2.175 Seconds.

Caution Flags:  4 for 18 laps.

Lead Changes:  15 among 5 drivers.

Lap Leaders:   W. Byron # 1-16; R. Sorenson(i) 17; W. Byron # 18-19; M. Crafton (C) 20-22; K. Larson(i) 23-43; W. Byron # 44; T. Reddick 45-47; M. Crafton (C) 48-53; K. Larson(i) 54-83; W. Byron # 84; K. Larson(i) 85-87; M. Crafton (C) 88; K. Larson(i) 89-110; W. Byron # 111; T. Reddick 112-124; W. Byron # 125-134.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led):  K. Larson(i) 4 times for 76 laps; W. Byron # 6 times for 31 laps; T. Reddick 2 times for 16 laps; M. Crafton (C) 3 times for 10 laps; R. Sorenson(i) 1 time for 1 lap.

Top 10 in Points: J. Sauter (C) – 4,030; M. Crafton (C) – 4,026; C. Bell (C) # – 4,025; T. Peters (C) – 4,024; W. Byron # – 2,199; D. Hemric – 2,163; B. Kennedy – 2,162; J. Nemechek – 2,133; T. Reddick – 511; C. Custer # – 502.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, November 19 2016
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