Johnny Sauter has nine CWTS victories, has been the championship runner-up twice, but the crown still eludes him.
Over the past five-and-a-half years, no driver has been closer to winning a championship without success than this one man. For this one man, he who has a family history that goes back to the short tracks of Wisconsin when his father was racing, a championship would be icing on the cake; maybe even with some candles, too.
I think I am a little more patient then I used to be
Johnny Sauter on 2014 title chances
Johnny Sauter has been racing full-time for Thorsport Racing, the only NASCAR Camping World Truck Series team based in Ohio, since 2009. However, even with nine victories in those several seasons, he has yet to be handed over the crown in NASCAR’s third-tier division. There is something different about this season for the 36-year-old racer, who has been racing in NASCAR’s top-three divisions since 2001.
“I think I am a little more patient then I used to be,” Sauter said in an exclusive interview with Motorsport.com at Pocono Raceway. “That’s the biggest thing that sticks out in my mind. You don’t always have to force the issue. Racing is funny. Sometimes things just have to kind of work out and I think being able to reason with that makes me a little more sane.”
Going for the title, but first he needs a win
This year, his No. 98 Toyota Tundra has finished inside of the top-10 in all but two events. The consistency is similar to what his teammate Matt Crafton had in his 2013 championship season. Moreover, all that Sauter is missing as of now is that illusive victory.
There is a lot of room for improvement in a lot of different areas
Johnny Sauter on 2014 season
In each season that he has raced with Thorsport, Sauter has recorded at least six top-five finishes along with a win. But with consistency this season, all that he is searching for is a drop more speed. Toyota’s were in Victory Lane in each event this year until Pocono, and they did so in dominating fashion.
“I’d say for me it has kind of been a bumpy one (season) at the least. We have had some flashes of speed and we have been more consistent this year. We are used to having a win by now, but it is not from a lack of effort. I’d give us a B probably. There is a lot of room for improvement in a lot of different areas, but we are consistent so I guess that’s good,” he said.
Even with five top-fives and nine top-10s through 11 contests this year; Sauter wants to improve in certain areas. And if the team can do just that, the No. 98 team is going to find the trophy quite frequently.
“It is not just any one thing; it’s a bunch of little things. A little bit here, a little bit there and next thing you know – you got a half of a tenth. There is always room for improvement. I don’t care if you’ve won 10 races, you need to keep digging and hauling because if you sit and rest; everyone will find it. That’s racing. Things are constantly evolving and you are constantly chasing that half of a tenth. That’s just the way it is.”
The technical side
Each team has been dealing with the new body style this season. Although Toyota was the first to unveil their new frame, there was still plenty of developing to be done. Due to Toyota Racing Development being located in the midst of North Carolina, Thorsport Racing has been able to do plenty of research with them; albeit they are approximately 550 miles apart from each either.
TRD, located in Salisbury, North Carolina, has been an essential part of Duke Thorson’s organization. Since the team moved away from Chevrolet in 2012, they have eight victories with a combined 42 top-fives.
I’m glad I don’t have to make those decisions every year
Johnny Sauter on possible CWTS schedule changes
“Obviously, Toyota is very heavily involved with all of the teams,” he said. “(We have) a lot of support from TRD in Salisbury, North Carolina with access to seven-posts, wind tunnels and stuff like that. If you feel like you need to work on it, you basically log in and say I’m going to be here on this date and it’s yours. They just put a lot of resources into the Truck Series, and they are surrounded by really good teams. Hand in hand; it all works out.”
But besides racing for a title in the Truck Series, a new opportunity was established this season for Sauter. Hattori Racing Enterprises, owned by Shigeaki Hattori, opted to bring his NASCAR K&N Pro Series team to the NASCAR Nationwide Series on a part-time basis. Although Ross Chastain started one of the events, Sauter has been their primary driver; proving that his experience behind the wheel is inevitably valuable for a new team.
In three races with the Toyota organization, Sauter and crew chief Bruce Cook have improved in each event. However, with their use of foreign sponsors; Hattori Racing Enterprises is set to run more races to conclude to the 2014. But this team is different. They just don’t show up to the track, but they carefully plan out which events they want to run as the season progresses.
“They were committed to running a couple of races with Bruce Cook. He’s the crew chief over there, and he called me to ask me if I wanted to run a couple of races. The answer was yes. It is a Toyota team and Bruce is obviously a good crew chief. Shigeaki was getting his feet wet and they wanted some experience. It has been fun; there is no question about it.”
Sauter also took a moment to talk about the current CWTS schedule, saying "I’m glad I don’t have to make those decisions every year. I’m a short track guy; I’d like to see more short tracks. There are just so many determining factors when the schedule gets laid out. It’s a way bigger thing than me."