Sauter "not looking for fights," but ready to defend 2016 crown
Johnny Sauter has a ‘Get off my lawn’ attitude when it comes to racing in NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series.
At 39, and as the defending champion of that tour, he has earned that right. Sauter spends most of his weekends navigating his way around teenagers and 20-somethings who use the truck tour as a developmental series on the path to the Xfinity and Cup.
And Sauter’s approach won’t change this weekend when he attacks the Championship 4 race at Homestead Miami Speedway.
“It has been a great motivator for me,” Sauter said of his take-no-prisoners attitude. “Obviously, we’re in a different world than we have been in the past. I’m not looking for fights. It just kind of happens. But it’s been fun.”
Once again, Sauter will face his former ThorSport teammate and two-time champion Matt Crafton, 41, in the final four. Christopher Bell, 22, is also returning to the title round. The fourth and final contender is Austin Cindric, who graduated from High School in May—and has continued his NASCAR education in the truck series this season.
Certainly, the dynamic of the tour has changed dramatically since Sauter returned to the truck series nearly a decade ago. Ron Hornaday Jr., won his fourth title that season. Crafton finished second, and former champions Mike Skinner and Todd Bodine rounded out the top four.
Sauter, along with any four of those four drivers, could have built their own trucks and set up the vehicles for the race. Yes, times have changed.
“We’re in a different era than we’ve ever seen in NASCAR before because it is mostly kids,” Sauter said. “Some of the moves they make are just, ‘Wow! I can’t believe he just did that.’ It was just so different for me growing up. If you tore up your stuff, it was you in the garage at 3 o’clock in the morning trying to figure out how to put a radiator back in your car, or built up work, or whatever the case may be.
“I’ve heard some people use the analogy of a video game and just hit start and restart. But it’s just a different world. I’m not knocking either way. But I promise you, the way I was brought up is a lot different than the way these kids are racing today. It’s just a different era. Not that I require respect, but there’s a lot less respect than there ever has been before.”
Before Sauter finishes his sentence, Crafton proves his point. The fellow champion and playoff contender walks by and flips Sauter off with a smile.
After seven seasons at ThorSport, Sauter moved on to Gallagher Motorsports last year and didn’t look back. Although the organization was just two years old at the time, Sauter was encouraged by Maury Gallagher’s vision. Seven races into his first season in the No. 21 Chevy truck, he was reunited with his former crew chief and childhood friend Joe Shear Jr. The move provided Sauter with a comfort level that has allowed him to thrive ever since.
“When Mike Beam first called me about coming over there, I took the tour of the shop and saw just exactly what they were building over there,” Sauter said. “Then I got to meet Mr. Gallagher and the family, and they were serious, and they said all the right things, and they had a realistic expectation of where they wanted to be and how they were going to get there.
“But still, when I tour the shop, I walk around sometimes and go, this is really unbelievable, just the way they're going about it, building their own chassis, hanging their own bodies and all that. They're all in, but on the flip-side of that, they expect results. But I think they've got a really good plan for where they're headed.”
And Sauter has delivered. Over the last two seasons, he has scored seven wins, one pole and the company’s first championship. Entering this weekend, Sauter has the momentum after winning the last two truck races entering Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“I do feel like we've been strong all year,” Sauter said. “If I look at the way we started off the season, finishing second, third, second, third, getting really close to winning, I feel like we're a more competitive team than we were last year. We've led three times as many laps this year as we did last year. I feel like we've shot ourselves—I’ve shot ourselves in a foot once or twice, and there's a couple races where we didn't execute, so I feel legitimately we should be sitting here with six, seven, maybe eight wins right now.
“I feel like we were (competitive) a year ago, but I also know that the rest of the season is history, and it's all about tomorrow night. We just have to run well tomorrow night. Win, lose or draw, you have to put your best effort forth because it comes down to one race. We've had a great year, and hopefully, we can continue that tomorrow.”
Winning it all and what it means
Sauter never really appreciated what winning a championship might mean until he pulled off the feat last year. That accomplishment has helped fuel his drive for a second title this season.
“Winning championships is cool,” Sauter said. “Obviously last year was the first time I had ever done that, so I really got a taste of what it feels like. Winning races is always something that I thought was the ultimate, but after you've gotten a championship, you realize how important it really is.
“Absolutely, that's a huge motivating factor for us, for me. To be a back‑to‑back champion would be awesome.”
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