HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Johnny Sauter worked his entire career for an opportunity to win a championship in one of NASCAR’s national divisions.
On Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Sauter came through when the opportunity presented itself to win his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship in his first season with GMS Racing.
Sauter, 38, came out on top of a late-race battle during Friday’s Ford EcoBoost 200 with fellow veteran and championship rival Matt Crafton to win the championship during the inaugural Chase for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship.
“It’s not just me, it’s the whole team,” Sauter said after exiting his truck. “I couldn’t be more proud of everybody on this Allegiant Travel Chevrolet. Thank you to Maury Gallagher, the Gallagher family, everybody that gave me this opportunity.”
The championship was far from a foregone conclusion for Sauter on Friday evening. He started 19th, the deepest in the field of the four Chase contenders. He spent most of the race working his way up through the field before finally putting himself in position to battle for the championship with less than 30 laps left.
With 25 laps left the final caution flag of the night waved for the slow car of Patrick Staropoli. All of the leaders pitted and Crafton came off pit road in second, with Sauter lined up in fourth for the restart.
Crafton battled Tyler Reddick for the race lead during the restart, but that allowed Sauter to get right up behind Crafton and begin battling him for the position.
For the next four laps Sauter did everything he could to find a way around Crafton. With 17 laps left they were side-by-side as William Byron dove under them both to move up to second. They stayed side-by-side for another lap and Daniel Hemric took them three-wide down the front stretch, but this time Sauter had enough momentum to clear Crafton for the position and thus the championship lead.
Once in front of Crafton, Sauter pulled away and was unchallenged by Crafton for the remainder of the race as he held on to capture the championship.
“I’m not a high line guy, so I just elected to keep doing my deal and actually found some grip on the bottom of the race track,” Sauter said. “Five years ago tonight my old man (father Jim Sauter) was down here when we won the race. This is for him and for Joe Shear Jr.’s dad. Both great Midwest racers.
“My family is here. My kids are here. My wife is here. This is just an awesome night. I’m proud to be a champion,” Sauter said.
Sauter opened the season with a victory at Daytona Int’l Speedway, which locked him into the Chase. He didn’t win again until the 20th race of the year at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway on Oct. 29, which locked him into the championship finale Friday at Homestead.
He added another victory in the 21st race of the year at Texas Motor Speedway on Nov. 4 and then finished second last weekend at Phoenix Int’l Raceway to give him all the momentum heading into Friday’s finale.
The championships comes in Sauter’s eighth full-time season in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. It is the second-straight championship for GMS Racing, who last year won the ARCA Racing Series championship with driver Grant Enfinger.
Crafton faded all the way to seventh at the checkered flag and found himself holding off fellow championship contenders Christopher Bell and Timothy Peters in the closing laps. Bell finished eighth, while Peters finished ninth.