ThorSport Racing veteran looks to take aim of ending teammate's title reign RELATED: Full schedule of season previews Team: ThorSport Racing No. 98 Toyota Rank in final 2014 standings: 4th Wins: 1 ( Michigan International Speedway ) Strides: Sauter's consistent start to the season -- with top-10 finishes in 12 of the first 14 races -- helped him carry the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points lead into September. Notably, the steady start came during a stretch of turnover for the ThorSport No. 98, which used three different crew chiefs -- Eugene Wachtel, Dennis Connor and Jeff Hensley -- through the season. Besides the time spent atop the standings perch, Sauter also thwarted a personal nemesis by conquering Michigan International Speedway , a track that had yielded zero top-10s in his previous five tries before his breakthrough victory. It was a triumph made even sweeter upon the realization that his father, Jim -- who died in October -- cherished racing at the two-mile track in the next state over from his family's Wisconsin home. "Winning Michigan, it's been for whatever reason historically a difficult race track for me," Sauter said, "and now the way things are, that was probably one of my dad's favorite race tracks, so it even means more to me now than it ever did before. That's a huge feather in my cap because it's just one of those places that he loved and I didn't, and now we've got a win there and that's pretty cool." Setbacks: Sauter won the Keystone Light Pole Award at Chicagoland Speedway in September, but dipped out of the points lead after a 14th-place finish. After another midpack finish at Las Vegas, engine failure at Talladega Superspeedway sent him tumbling to fourth in the standings with four races left. While the rare mechanical breakage halted the No. 98 team's momentum, Sauter suggested that the team's ability to compete for checkered flags needs a boost in 2015. "Talladega was a tough one … but me, personally, I didn't think we ran well enough all year to be a championship deal," Sauter said. "We were consistent at times and we did a good job of finishing races, but we need to go out and lead laps and win races, in my opinion, and the points will take care of themselves. It was a good year and consistent year, it just wasn't a great year and there's a lot of little things I can point to to say that we need to do better to be better ultimately." Quoteworthy: "There's a lot of things we're looking at, and it's funny because a lot of people say well, you've got to do this or got to do that, and it's really just a lot of little things that you have to do different. It's not one big thing that sticks out like a sore thumb that says, 'Hey, you've got to fix this and you'll be the best.' It's probably eight or 10 little things, and it's all different aspects." What's next: ThorSport has indicated that the No. 98 team's flotilla of sponsors -- Nextant Aerospace, Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff, Curb Records and Carolina Nut Co. -- will return for 2015. Sauter will work with veteran crew chief Doug George, whose most recent tenure was spent at Turner Scott Motorsports helping four-time Camping World Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr . and Ben Kennedy , the 2014 Sunoco Rookie of the Year in the series. Sauter carries an impressive streak of notching at least one victory in each of the last six seasons, plus a solid run of top-five results in the series standings in four of the last five years. While ThorSport teammate Matt Crafton has hoisted the series crown the past two seasons, Sauter says he's ready for a taste of the championship laurels by visiting Victory Lane on a more regular basis. "It's weird because I still ultimately always go back to this, and maybe my strategy is flawed and that's why I haven't won a championship: I think if you win races, the championship will take care of itself," Sauter said. "In 2011, we came really close to winning a championship and just didn't get it done. We just had too many bumps in the road. It would be awesome. … To win a NASCAR championship in the truck series, I don't know that you would really know what that would feel like until you did it." FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Johnny Sauter spins out after contact with AJ Allmendinger, bringing out a caution at Daytona.
Johnny Sauter and his Carolina Nut Toyota celebrates victory lane at Talladega and captures his third win of the 2013 season.
Father of Johnny Sauter made 76 career starts in premier series Jim Sauter , a racer and father of four drivers including NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Johnny Sauter , died on Friday night shortly before the conclusion of the Truck event at Texas Motor Speedway , according to ThorSport Racing. He was 71. Sauter competed in 82 NASCAR national series races from 1980 to 2004, including 76 premier series starts. The native of Necedah, Wisconsin, made his final NASCAR Nationwide Series start at the Milwaukee Mile in 2002, racing against his sons Jay, Johnny and Tim. Jim Jr. followed in his father's footsteps as well. In addition to these four sons, Sauter is survived by his wife, Debbie, eight additional children, 51 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and two sisters. A two-time champion in the ARTGO Racing Series in the Midwest, Sauter tested International Race of Champions cars with fellow Wisconsin racers Dave Marcis and Dick Trickle. His son, Johnny , learned of his father's passing following Friday's Winstar World Casino & Resort 350. His lone win of 2014 came at Michigan International Speedway , and he acknowledged it was a special victory in his post-race comments that recalled his dad's recollections of the track. "I'm just going to relish in this win because this has been a tough, tough race track for me throughout my career," Johnny said. "My Dad always said, 'That place is easy.' But, I never felt that way. Until today, I mean when you have a truck like this -- it was just awesome." NASCAR issued the following statement on Jim Sauter's passing: "NASCAR offers its deepest condolences to the family and friends of Jim Sauter . A true racer, Jim passed on his passion and competitive spirit to his children and grandchildren. A driver himself with roots in the Midwest, his reach and impact extend across the entire sport." The racing community expressed condolences on social media with a sample included below from Sauter's former competitor Mark Martin ; fellow Wisconsin racer Roy Kenseth, father of Matt; crew chief and former IROC chassis specialist Ray Evernham and NASCAR Senior Vice President, Racing Operations Jim Cassidy. Sorry to hear Jim Sauter died. He was a really good man and a great racer. — Mark Martin (@markmartin) November 1, 2014 Thoughts and prayers go out to the Jim Sauter family today. pic.twitter.com/ydHNAQcXQT — Roy Kenseth (@roykenseth) November 1, 2014 Really sorry to hear about passing of Jim Sauter . Worked with him for many years at IROC. Crew chiefed for him at Pocono 1990 #RIP — ray evernham (@RayEvernham) November 1, 2014 Thinking about the Sauter family. Jim Sauter's contribution to stock car racing and NASCAR will be felt for many generations. Good man. — Jim Cassidy (@jfcassidy) November 1, 2014 MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView
Crew chief change off to promising start for No. 98 team The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series schedule is in the midst of its now-annual tight turnaround in August, with just four days separating last Saturday afternoon's event at Michigan from Wednesday night's tilt at Bristol Motor Speedway . It's a quick turn that newly minted points leader Johnny Sauter -- and the series' most recent winner -- doesn't mind making. Sauter and the rest of the truck series regulars will make their traditional midweek stop at the Thunder Valley bullring for Wednesday's UNOH 200 (8:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1). With 10 races left in the season, Bristol kicks off what Sauter hopes is a favorable stretch in his bid for a breakthrough truck title as the schedule turns toward fall. "I can't think of a better place to go than Bristol and to be only three, four days away from that is pretty awesome," Sauter said Saturday after notching his first win of the season at Michigan International Speedway . "When I look down the rest of the schedule, I see Vegas, Talladega, Martinsville, Texas, Homestead -- all places that I've won at in the past. ... Having said all that, Bristol's the next one on the list." "I keep telling everyone around me, they're like, 'Championship, championship,' and I said, 'Well, I'm doing it one week at a time.' If you run well and stay out of trouble, you're going to ultimately, hopefully have a shot at the championship. So right now, next thing on my list is Bristol." Though Sauter's season had been marked by steady performance with just two finishes outside the top 10 in the first 12 races, his ThorSport Racing team recently made a change at crew chief, bringing in Jeff Hensley and moving former crew chief Dennis Connor to teammate Jeb Burton' s crew starting at Michigan. There was no semblance of a major slump -- Sauter finished second in his last race with Connor at Pocono -- but the team still sought an extra edge. The change produced immediate results in just Hensley's eighth day on the job. "It was just a deal where we were really running decent this year, we were consistent but we were just maybe lacking a little bit here and there," said Sauter , who extended his streak of seasons with at least one victory to six. "We hadn't won; I think this is the latest in the season in the last four or five years that I hadn't won a race, so it was tough. Ultimately Dennis Connor did a great job; I have all the respect in the world for Dennis. We talked already about it, and it was just a thing we thought was going to make the whole organization stronger." Hensley, now 1-for-1 atop the pit box for Sauter's No. 98 Toyota, agreed. "I know. I've been where Johnny's at," said Hensley, who was crew chief for Chuck Bown's 1990 championship in what is now the NASCAR Nationwide Series . "Sometimes you've got to do things that maybe shake things up a bit, and good things happen like happened today. I just feel like I'm the most fortunate person in the world right now to be a part of this." Short tracks have long been a sweet spot for the 36-year-old Sauter , but a Bristol victory has eluded him thus far in his his truck career. He finished second at the .533-mile track in 2011 and landed a fourth-place run there last season. Carrying a nine-point lead over ThorSport teammate Matt Crafton and the momentum from his Michigan win bode well for Sauter's chances, but so does a fresh outlook and a fast mount. "I think Jeff's already got that truck pretty well ready to go," Sauter said of his Bristol ride. "It's pretty cool to win our first race out of the gate together, and maybe we can make it two in a row." MORE: READ: Latest NASCAR news WATCH: Latest NASCAR video PLAY: NASCAR Fantasy Live FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Drivers have to be separated by team members RELATED: Quiroga goes four-wide, angers Gaulding MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- The post-race scrap for position Saturday afternoon between hard-nosed veterans Johnny Sauter and Timothy Peters ended with both trucks practically locked together on Martinsville Speedway 's pit road, with both drivers emerging and looking to brawl. But after tempers had soothed slightly, it also ended with an extended olive branch -- at least from one side of the battle. "I'll buy him dinner if he's willing to talk," Peters said, suggesting local staple Clarence's Steakhouse as a cozy nearby venue. Sauter was in no mood for chitchat, regardless of Peters' offer to pick up the check. While his rival went on to a second-place finish in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series' Kroger 200 at his home track, Sauter sunk to seventh place after leading the second-most laps (41). "The future of NASCAR looks bright, don't it? What a disgrace of a race," Sauter fumed to MRN Radio, drawing a chorus of boos from the crowd when his remarks were broadcast over the track's public-address system. Sauter declared his fringe candidacy for his first series championship over after last week's engine failure and 31st-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway . At Martinsville, he looked poised to at least keep pace if not make gains, but his late run-in with Peters placed him behind the three drivers ahead of him in the series standings -- race winner Darrell Wallace Jr ., points leader and teammate Matt Crafton and fifth-place Ryan Blaney . Points or no points, Sauter was irate and then some, needing to be separated from Peters and his Red Horse Racing team. Officials and other crew members stepped in, but on more than one occasion when Sauter seemed settled down, heated words and the lure of the scrum pulled him back in. "Take your helmet off, tough guy," Sauter yelled. "You want some? I'll give you all I got. You're nothing." After a slight cooling-off period and a haphazard search for his car keys to beat a hasty retreat out of the .526-mile track, Sauter's dander was still up. "You're just racing hard all day, and you get clobbered at the end," Sauter said. "It's the way it is, and if people like that, I guess they should keep coming." The melee gave Peters an odd season sweep of sorts, with involvement in cool-down lap confrontations in both Martinsville races this year. In March, he crumpled fenders with Peters' Red Horse teammate German Quiroga after their late-race conflict. This time around, Peters was the one in a giving mood. "Just hard racing. I didn't mean to get into him as much as I did, but did I mean to get into him? Absolutely," Peters said. "He drives pretty recklessly and when I get driven like that, I'm going to return the favor. It's just hard short-track racing. I was on the receiving end of it in the spring, so it was time for someone else to be." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff extends partnership with No. 98 entry Registration for NASCAR Fantasy Live is now open! Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff and Pouches has extended their partnership with ThorSport Racing and Johnny Sauter for the 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, the team announced on Tuesday. The partnership is for eight races beginning with the season opener at Daytona International Speedway , the NextEra Energy Resources 250 on Friday, Feb. 20 (7:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1). "Smokey Mountain has been a huge supporter of our series, and every year they are able to increase their presence in NASCAR," Sauter said in a team release. "I'm honored they have chosen not only to extend their partnership with myself and ThorSport Racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, but to have also increased their presence in 2015. This kind of partnership is hard to find these days, so I'm honored to be carrying their colors and representing their brand again this season." In addition to the opener at Daytona, Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff and Pouches will serve as the primary sponsor for both races at Martinsville Speedway (in March and October), the May races at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Dover International Speedway , the August race at Bristol Motor Speedway , the October race at Talladega Superspeedway and the November race at Texas Motor Speedway . Last season, Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff was a primary sponsor for Sauter in six of the series' 22 races. In the 2014 season, Sauter scored a win at Michigan International Speedway and finished fourth in the final standings, driving the No. 98 Toyota Tundra for ThorSport Racing. FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
Sauter's strong start to 2013 was bookended by a solid late rally into the top five in points
Sauter has won two of the last three spring Truck Series races at Martinsville
Johnny Sauter and Timothy Peters chat on pit road after Peters bumped Sauter for position in the closing laps.