Johnny Sauter was the worst of the best last season in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. Translation: He finished fourth among the four drivers who advanced to Homestead-Miami Speedway with a shot at the championship.
How the season ended was the only blemish on Sauter and the No. 21 team’s record. While he shared a series-leading six wins with champion Brett Moffitt, Sauter was the best of the best in a few other areas. He had the overall best average finish at 6.4. He led the way in top-five finishes (14), besting Moffitt (13) as the only two drivers to crack double digits in the category. And Sauter also accumulated the most playoff points.
But good just wasn’t good enough.
“Statistically it was a great year [with] the wins and all that, and there’s numerous guys that would love to have the opportunity to win six races, so I’m not going to hang our head on that,” Sauter said. “It’s just — it’s one thing to get beat for a championship, but I felt like we really struggled at Homestead and that’s the toughest part.
“It’s one thing like last year you go down there and finish third, oh well, it just wasn’t your night. But this year was tough. To have the season we did and to ultimately struggle like we did, that was tough.”
Winding up 12th in the season finale — the only title contender to finish outside the top 10 — Sauter never led a lap. When it came down to deciding the race and the championship, he wasn’t in the picture. More was expected from Sauter and company, especially considering he’d led the point standings throughout the year, racked up the second-most laps led (585 to Noah Gragson’s 625) and traded wins with Moffitt and others.
To be “awful” in the final race, as Sauter described it afterward, was a shock. His average running position throughout the night was 11th, and he said they just missed it when it mattered most.
“Honestly it was the hardest couple of weeks I’ve had after a season like that,” Sauter said of putting Homestead and 2018 behind him. “You feel like you’re doing all the things you need to do to go down there, and I felt like I was prepared as good as I could be. I felt really good about what we were doing going there and then to have it unfold like that, it was very, very tough. … It just sucks.
“You have a season like that, you want to capitalize on it, and we didn’t. All in all, it was a great year but without the championship, it kind of leaves a little void.”
A series champion and racing veteran, Sauter doesn’t need motivation going from one season to the next. A reminder of what the goal is when a new year begins isn’t necessary. If what he did in 2018 wasn’t enough, Sauter merely expects to do more in 2019.
“I want to win races just as bad as anybody,” Sauter said. “To me, it’s all about winning races, and if you’re ever in a position where you feel you can’t do that, then you don’t need to do this.
“I’m ready to go. Hopefully, we can win eight races or ten races next year and win the championship. That would be the ultimate.”