By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
A second NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship just wasn’t meant to be for Johnny Sauter. Sauter entered the Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway with momentum after winning the two races leading up to the season finale. However, Sauter just didn’t have the truck to compete with eventual champion Christopher Bell.
Like Bell, Sauter started mid-pack. Bell made quick work of Sauter as the duo fought to catch the other Championship Four drivers. Sauter’s No. 21 ISM Connect Chevrolet Silverado followed Bell’s No. 4 JBL Toyota Tundra through the field as they passed both championship and non-championship contenders alike. However, he just couldn’t keep pace with the eventual champion. Bell cruised to win his first Truck Series Championship with 12-seconds to spare over Sauter.
Sauter admitted that his truck just wasn’t right,
“Just really loose with our ISM Connect Chevy. I just couldn’t run the top. I had to commit running straight into the corner using a little brake. I could make decent time getting into the center, but I couldn’t get on the throttle and commit like I needed too. Then with 25 to go we were clipping on the 4 truck, but I burned it off and there just was nothing there. I’m proud of everybody, thank everyone at the shop, but just one spot too short. We had a great year, and we get to do it next year; I’m looking forward to that.”
Bell and Sauter led the Championship Points standings throughout much of the season. The two drivers combined for 63 Playoff Points alone. And just as they were never far apart in points, they were never far apart on track, Bell finishing second to Sauter’s third.
Sauter said that the Championship was a tough loss,
“This is hard. This is tough. This comes down to one race and obviously the 4 truck has had good speed all year. Congrats to those guys, Rudy (Fugle)’s a good guy, and Christopher’s a good shoe. They were just better than us tonight. We were just way too free and I couldn’t do anything about it. Joe (Shear Jr.) and the guys did a good job trying to make it as best we could and we couldn’t get it good enough. But, 2018 is right around the corner and we finished the year strong and I hope we can carry that into next year.”
Sauter can hold his head high how the 2017 season played out. He won four races, a single-season personal record. Sauter also earned 13 top-fives and 19 top-10s.He was the model of consistency all year long. Sauter, along with race-winner Chase Briscoe, managed to finish all 23 races. Sauter’s finishing streak stretches back to the second race of the 2016 season, 45 races ago.
Prior to the race, GMS Racing announced that Sauter would return to the team in 2018. Now, they can focus on rebounding from their runner-up finish and make another run for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship.