Johnny Sauter’s record at Homestead-Miami Speedway, including four consecutive top-10 finishes and a spectacular victory in 2011, are the perfect ingredients for success in Friday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season finale Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in his No. 98 Nextant Aerospace / Curb Records Toyota.
Sauter’s riding a streak of seven consecutive top-10 finishes with his ThorSport Racing team that has launched them into fourth in the Truck Series championship race — with a stage appearance at Monday night’s awards celebration in Miami Beach on the line, as only the top-five teams are recognized in that way.
“I don’t really need any more incentive to win it,” Sauter said, shaking his head. “I just want to go and do the best that I can — same as always. You hope that that’s a win but I don’t know.
“It wouldn’t matter to me if Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon entered the race — I’d still want to win just as badly. Motivation is not a problem for me, every weekend, no matter where we go.”
And this week it’s Homestead, where ThorSport teammate Matt Crafton will clinch his first NASCAR national series title — and the first NASCAR championship for 18-year Truck Series owners Duke and Rhonda Thorson — simply by taking the green flag.
Sauter is 27 points behind third-place James Buescher and 13 points ahead of fifth-place rookie Jeb Burton in the standings. Sixth-place Ryan Blaney is 21 points behind Sauter, who’s rallied from 10th in the standings and 39 points out of fifth just those seven top-10 races ago.
“I can believe this season has (come and gone),” Sauter said. “It’s been a tumultuous year. It started out with a bang, kind of went into a slump and now it’s turned out to be pretty solid again, towards the end.
“But it does feel like it’s (dragged) on a long time, to me. No question, I’m ready to cut it clean…”
Sauter referred to winning the season’s first two races, scoring four top-five finishes to start the year but losing the point lead, to Crafton, via a point-deduction for a technical violation at Kansas Speedway in April. But there’s no give-up in his team, and they’ve rallied gamely into the top five.
And before the season ends there’s Homestead, a place that’s near and dear to Sauter’s heart thanks in large part to 2011, when Sauter had to win the season finale and lead the most laps in doing it to have a chance at the championship. He did what he had to, even though circumstances in the end gave the title to Austin Dillon by six points when NASCAR prematurely cut the race short due to weather.
“Homestead is one of those tracks that I seem to forget about when people ask me to name my favorite racetracks,” Sauter said, chuckling. “For some reason — late in the year, maybe — it’s just one of those racetracks that doesn’t come to your mind right away but when you look at it on the schedule, you immediately say, ‘Yeah, that’s a fun track.’
“Being so competitive there doesn’t hurt how you feel about it, but it’s so much fun because you have options there — you can really race around the racetrack from top to bottom, wherever you have to go — so there’s no way I couldn’t say that Homestead isn’t one of my top-five favorite tracks because I just like the racetrack and the way it’s laid out.”
Sauter’s first Homestead start for ThorSport was a ninth-place finish in 2009, followed by a third, his famous win, in which he led 44 laps and then last season, when he led for the third straight year and finished sixth in the end.
“I feel good about going back to Homestead,” Sauter said. “Obviously we’re taking the same truck that we ran second at Texas and (Las) Vegas with. That’s become my new favorite of the fleet, I guess, and when you have a good truck that you feel comfortable and confident in and you’re going to a racetrack that you really like, I’m ready to go down there and see what we can do.”
Sauter is too humble to stress just what his experience, and his success in a wide variety of equipment at a wider variety of venues can mean to a race team, but he did agree that Homestead’s flexibility is a plus when it comes to a veteran driver being savvy enough to find a place to make time on it.
“I would 100 percent agree with that — no question about it when it comes to Homestead,” Sauter said. “Homestead, even though it’s a mile-and-a-half and it’s considered an intermediate track, I take more of a short-track approach to it and I always have.
“When we first get on it with the trucks — the first practice of the day on Friday — it’s got a lot of grip and everybody feels confident. But deeper into a run when (the truck’s setup) has really got to be good, well, it just races like a short track to me. And after the Cup and Nationwide cars have been on it, we have even more options.”
Homestead’s one-day Truck Series race format begins with a single practice from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. ET Friday, with live TV coverage on FOX Sports 1. Keystone Light Pole Qualifying to set the starting lineup is scheduled at 4:30 p.m., with TV coverage on FOX Sports 2.
Friday’s 134-lap, 201-mile main event will be telecast live on FOX Sports 1 at 8 p.m. ET, preceded by The Setup pre-race show at 7:30. The live broadcast on MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio also begins at 7:30. Live timing & scoring for the day’s events will be at www.nascar.com