Byron takes Homestead Truck race; Sauter claims first series championship

By Kyle Magda

November 19, 2016

HOMESTEAD, Fla.–William Byron and Johnny Sauter both ended their 2016 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series seasons as winners in the Ford EcoBoost 200 Friday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Byron captured the checkered flag for the seventh time in 2016.

Byron drove away from Brad Keselowski Racing driver Tyler Reddick in the closing laps for his seventh win of the year.

“It feels awesome, it’s incredible,” Byron said. “This team has worked so hard all year. We just had an unfortunate situation last week that we couldn’t control but they brought a good truck.

“Qualified on the pole, these guys are awesome. I just hate this team not being together next year. It’s just insane how good they are, so many talented people on this race team.”

Byron’s win clinch the owner’s championship for Kyle Busch Motorsports and the No. 9 team, but the main focus was on the title contenders on a warm Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Johnny Sauter’s third place finish Friday extended his streak of 12 consecutive top-ten finishes to end the season. The result was the highest among championship-eligible drivers.

Sauter passed two-time champ Matt Crafton with 12 laps to and drove away from the No. 88 to secure the championship.

“It’s not just me, it’s the whole team, everybody at GMS Racing,” Sauter said. “We qualified bad today and I really was kind of worried about it, felt pretty good in race trim.

“Couldn’t be more proud of everybody on this Allegiant Travel Chevrolet. Thank Maury Gallagher, the Gallagher family, everybody that gave me this opportunity. So proud to have ECR engines under the hood.

“We got a cool paint scheme this weekend honoring some old-school racers. Just proud of these guys, flawless execution on pit road tonight. Joe made great adjustments where I could just hang on.”

Sauter started 19th on the night and methodically worked his way into the top-five before catching and battling Crafton for a handful of laps late in the race.

Sauter’s GMS Racing teammate Kyle Larson led the most laps (76) but slower pit stops in comparison to the competition forced this year’s Eldora winner to try and claw his way back to the front. He never reclaimed the lead.

With Larson running the high line, Sauter kept the No. 21 truck glued to the bottom.
“I’m not a high-line guy so I just elected to keep going ideal and actually found some pretty good grip on the bottom of the racetrack,” Sauter added.

“To be a champion, five years ago tonight, my old man was down here with me when we won the race. This is for him and Joe Shear Jr.’s dad, great Midwest racers.

“My family here’s, my kids are here, my wife’s here it’s just an awesome night. Proud to be champion, going to do everything in our power to represent NASCAR and Camping World as best we can.

“I was pretty conservative at the beginning of the race, just trying to take care of it and not make any stupid mistakes. Then there was about 85 laps to go, and I said let’s start picking them off here and just had a solid day in the pits.

“With about 50, 60 to go, I was like, ‘We got something here,’ and we were really catching the 88. Looked like he was pushing real bad. Just so proud of these guys.

“I can’t thank everybody enough. I’m a small part of this deal and we executed like we needed to tonight so thank the Blessed Mother and the Sacred Heart of Jesus and this is awesome. We’re bringing it back to Wisconsin.”

Sauter won a rain-shortened race at Homestead in Nov. 2011 with his late father, Jim,  in attendance, fending off Cup interlopers Kevin Harvick and Denny Hamlin.
The No. 21 team began the year with a victory at Daytona and ended the season as champions in Sauter’s first season with the team.

Crafton faded to seventh once the checkered flag flew with other title contenders Christopher Bell and Timothy Peters right behind the No. 88 ThorSport Racing Toyota. The two-time champ’s bid at a third title will have to wait until 2017.

“Really good at the beginning and then was terrible there on the last run and came up short,” Crafton said about the race. “I kind of figured it was a matter of time.  

“We were just really bad on that last run for whatever reason.  We just went the wrong way for whatever reason.  It just got really tight on that last run.  The run before that was just a little bit free, and on that last run it just got really tight on entry.”

Will Johnny Sauter win back-to-back titles next season?