CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The sting of a disappointing fourth-place finish in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series standings still sticks with Johnny Sauter and is etched in his comments weeks after the end of the season.
“Honestly, it was the hardest couple of weeks I’ve had after a season like that,” Sauter said Saturday night at the Xfinity and Truck Series Awards at the Charlotte Convention Center. “I felt really good about what we were doing going there (Miami) and then to have it unfold like that, it was very, very tough.
“Week, two weeks after that … 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.”
The 2018 campaign was a career-best for the 2016 series champion. Sauter set career-high numbers in wins (six) and laps led (585). He also was the series’ Regular Season Champion. A dominating win in the Round of 6 opener at Martinsville locked him into the Championship 4.
From there though, Sauter had one top 10 in the season’s final three races and finished 12th — lowest among the Championship 4 in the season-ending, title-deciding Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
“Statistically, it was a great year,” Sauter said. “The wins and all that — and again there are numerous guys that would love to have the opportunity to win six races, so I’m not going to hang our head on that.
“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 and finish third. ‘Oh well, it wasn’t your night.’ This year, it was tough to have the season that we did and ultimately struggle like we did.”
Sauter will have a new teammate in Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender and 2018 ARCA Racing Series champion Sheldon Creed in 2019, with Justin Haley moving up to the NASCAR Xfinity Series with Kaulig Racing. The organization also has a technical alliance with Halmar Friesen Racing and driver Stewart Friesen.
“I’ve been in position at GMS as kind of the old guy and I get to work with the rookies, so it’s cool,” Sauter said. “Sheldon (Creed) has shown speed early so I look for him to have a pretty good year obviously. Friesen is coming back and obviously he’s been with us for a year and half now, so it’s going to be fun.
“I feel like all three of us are capable guys and I look for us to be competing against each other for wins not only against the competition but amongst ourselves at GMS.”