Johnny Sauter wins Camping World Truck Series championship
When Johnny Sauter decided to leave a more established Camping World Truck Series team at ThorSport Racing for an upstart operation at GMS Racing for the 2016 season, there were those who questioned the move.
But Sauter never did.
Sauter’s faith in himself and his new team paid off in a big way Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Sauter’s third-place finish in the EcoBoost 200 was plenty good enough to earn him his first Truck Series championship.
“Am I surprised? No. I mean, I felt like that's why I made the move – to ultimately to win races and try to win a championship,” Sauter said.
Why did Sauter believe he could win it all in his first season with a new, untested team in a fledgling organization?
“Honestly, there's just too many good people within the GMS organization. You know, the plan is to do it the right way,” Sauter said. “We had the right engines, the right pit crews, assembled the right people.”
Sauter set himself up for the run to the championship with back-to-back wins at Martinsville and Texas earlier in the inaugural Truck Series Chase playoffs.
That gave him and his team the confidence they needed to pull it off. Not even the fact that he had to start 19th Friday could deter him from the goal that loomed just in front of him.
In fact, for 118 of the first 134 laps Friday, Matt Crafton, the two-time series champion who was Sauter’s long-time teammate at ThorSport, was out front in the Championship 4 battle that also included Chase finalists Christopher Bell and Tiimothy Peters.
But even Crafton knew Sauter was coming for him, especially when Crafton’s No. 88 truck did not respond well on the track after the final pit stop.
“I kind of figured it was a matter of time,” Crafton said. “We were just really bad on that last run for whatever reason. We just went the wrong way for whatever reason.”
For those who thought perhaps Sauter had gone the wrong way when he went to GMS Racing, Friday’s championship proved just the opposite.
Just like Sauter, who completed his seventh full-time season in the series, thought it would when he made the move.
“You know, last year when I got the call from GMS and they said, ‘We want to meet with you, I hopped on a plane, went out to Las Vegas, met with the owners,” Sauter said. “I knew right then and there they had very lofty goals and they were going to do everything in their power to be a championship contender.
“Then when you add that with the people that they've hired, you know, Mike Beam as general manager, and just so on down the line, a lot of the employees in the shop, yeah, I absolutely felt like we'd be a championship contender.”
Now they are even more than that. They are championship winners.