Reigning 2016 NASCAR Truck Series Champion Johnny Sauter hasn’t missed a beat so far in 2017.
Sauter, who drives the No. 21 Chevrolet Silverado for GMS Racing, has been a master of the new stage racing. In three NASCAR Truck Series races this season, Sauter has three stage wins, more than any other NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver. The only other driver who has come close in stage wins is Christopher Bell, who has won two.
Starting at Daytona, Sauter would finish in the 15th position after being caught up in a last lap incident while battling for the lead. Sauter’s finish in the first race of the season wasn’t indicative of how he ran through-out the race. Sauter would lead three times for 52 laps, including the end of the first two stages.
That is not the ending I wanted for my team and GMS Racing tonight. I’m not sure what I could have done differently, if I could have done anything differently. I thought we were good and I could break up what the 88 and 27 had going on but I must have misjudged and made a mistake. I hate it for this 21 team but next week is a new race and we’ll be just fine.” Sauter said.
Sauter’s second race of the season came at Atlanta Motor Speedway yielded much better results than he left Daytona with. Sauter ran in the top 10 for all 130 laps. With a late caution at the end of the race Sauter had a chance to win, but would ultimately finish in the 3rd position making it his best finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway in seven starts.
“I’ve said many times that Atlanta is not one of my favorite tracks, but when you have a day like we had today there really isn’t much to complain about. I’m really proud of the adjustments our team made to try to keep up with the changing track. It’s not an easy thing to do when you have to also be concerned about tire wear. Sauter said after Atlanta.
The third race of the NCWTS schedule would bring Sauter and his No. 21 GMS racing team to Martinsville Speedway a place where Sauter has seen much success previously. Prior to last Saturday’s race Sauter had 18 starts, 3 wins, 6 top fives, 9 top 10s, and one pole at the track better known as “The Paperclip”.
Sauter and his No. 21 Allegiant Chevrolet team spent all of Friday’s practice session in race trim. Sauter would qualify in the second position, starting on the front row with team mate Chase Elliott. Sauter would remain in the top-three throughout the first stage but dealt with a tight race car early on. Sauter would take over the lead on lap 82 to 144 to win stage two. Sauter tried to run down his team mate Chase Elliott but tire wear ultimately won the battle, and he would finish second.
“It was a good points day for us and I know the folks at Allegiant are happy to finish first and second. Another strong run for all of the GMS teams today. We’ll be ready to go for another one when we get to Kansas.” Sauter said.
Heading into the May 12th NCWTS race at Kansas Speedway, Sauter is the current points leader after three races. Sauter will certainly be a force to be reckon with through-out the season as he has proven he can lead laps, win races and ultimately win a championship as well.
Sauter is coming off the 2016 season not only as the champion, but he also scored 3 wins, 19 top-tens, 12-top fives and one pole in 2016. Quite an impressive season that obviously has helped carry momentum into the 2017 season.
To Sauter though, winning the championship in 2016 is yesterday’s news, and he said such at Daytona in February.
“I’ve been racing long enough to know I need to put last year behind us because quite frankly, it’s yesterday’s news,” Sauter said. “It’s cool and I’m proud of the accomplishments of a year ago, but we’re on the verge of a new season.” Sauter said.
If Sauter can win the 2017 NCWTS championship, he will become only the second driver to win back-to back titles. Matt Crafton is the only driver in series history who has won back-to-back titles, doing so in 2013 and 2014. We will all just have to wait and see if history will be made again in November by only the second driver to do so. We have a long way to go in the season, but Sauter just very well could be the man to do it.
The NCWTS will return to racing on Friday May 12th at 7:30pm, at Kansas Speedway.