SAN FRANCISCO (Dec. 8, 1999) Driving a black GM Goodwrench Service Plus-sponsored Chevrolet with a large white No. 3 on the side is not one of the easiest jobs in sports. It's like wearing a Yankees baseball cap, Cowboys football helmet or Bulls basketball jersey. People associate these things with championships, and anything less just doesn't look right.
So it has been for Jay Sauter in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. After three full-time seasons in the Richard Childress-owned entry in the Tough Truck series, Sauter is happily taking his fifth-place finish in the standings with him to the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division next year.
"There's a certain amount of pressure there," said Sauter of his previous ride. "We didn't win as much as we would have liked. But I know that I drove hard, the team prepared each and every week and we got what we could out of it."
That included four victories in 78 starts, including two of his last three turns behind the wheel. Some would consider that a cruel twist of fate, for Sauter to enjoy his greatest success after he had been reduced to lame duck status. Sauter discovered that owner Richard Childress was de-emphasizing his truck program before he was able to rediscover Victory Lane.
"Timing is everything," Sauter said. "I don't know if it's cruel or not. You can't really put your finger on it. I don't know why it happened the way it did. For the team, it would have been easy to just go through the paces knowing I was going someplace else. But they dug down and put in the extra effort to make something happen."
Something wonderful happened at Louisville Motor Speedway. Sauter came up big on the short track by earning his third series victory (and first of 1999) in a race that could have been called the Kentucky Demolition Derby. Then he went out the following race and tamed one of the biggest tracks on the circuit -- Texas Motor Speedway.
It was Sauter's only two-race winning streak, ironically a highlight of his series career. But not the only highlight.
"Really winning the first race at Loudon was the biggest highlight," said Sauter of his 1997 triumph at New Hampshire International Speedway. "It was such a relief as much as it was exciting. Other than that, I guess Louisville was pretty big, 'cause it's such a tough track. I guess it would be a toss-up."
So now Sauter is tossing his hat into the NASCAR Busch Series ring. He leaves the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series with more than just four victories and two top-5 finishes in the points (he was fourth in 1998).
"I think the biggest thing I got from the truck series is that you have to run hard every lap," he said. "That and the experience on the tracks, obviously. But knowing that you have to go all out all the time is what will help me the most in the Busch Series.