Four drivers entered Homestead-Miami Speedway looking to leave the 1.5-mile oval with a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship. One of those drivers, Matt Crafton, came into the weekend looking to capture his third championship in the series. The other three, Johnny Sauter, Christopher Bell and Timothy Peters, all entered the weekend looking for their first ever NASCAR national Series championship.
During the Ford EcoBoost 200, it looked like Matt Crafton will walk away with his third championship. But, on the last green flag run to the finish, Crafton fell back and was passed by ex-teammate Johnny Sauter for the championship spot. Sauter ended the night as the highest Chase finisher and scored his first ever NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship.
Sauter did not have the most impressive season in the series but you would call it decent. The Wisconsin native ended the year with three wins, 12 top five and 19 top 10 finishes through 23 races throughout 2016. You could say that Sauter laid in the weeds all season capitalizing on everything.
“This championship means a lot to me, but it means a lot to my family,” the newly crowned champion said after the race. “I just can’t thank these guys enough. They executed like they needed to and I can’t thank the Gallagher family enough for giving me this opportunity. It was a leap of faith to come here over the off season. Being in a Chevrolet was very important to me and this is just awesome.”
Sauter started the season off with a victory in the season opener at Daytona International Speedway. The driver would lead 12 of the 100 laps of the Nextra Energy Resources 250 after starting in the second spot. That would just be the first of his three wins throughout the year.
The next three races would be tough for the No. 21 GMS Racing entry. The team would finish 28th at Atlanta Motor Speedway after a 16th-place qualifying effort. In race three, at Martinsville Speedway, Sauter would find himself in a crash on lap 43 of 255 and unable to finish the event. He would leave the Martinsville Speedway with a disappointing 32nd-place finish. Race four at Kansas Speedway would end a little better for Sauter as the team qualified 12th. After 170 laps of racing, the No. 21 Chevrolet team would find themselves 16th on the board.
The next seven races would all be top 10 finishes for the Camping World Truck Series veteran. He would also capture a pole at Texas Motor Speedway and a third-place finish there. The worst finish Sauter would bring home during this seven-race stretch would be at Iowa Speedway where he finished 10th.
Past halfway into the season, going into race 11 at Eldora Speedway, Sauter would qualify eighth at the half-mile dirt track. He would then take his No. 21 GMS Racing Chevrolet to a 13th-place finish.
With the season past halfway, and the first ever Camping World Truck Series Chase looming, Sauter and the team would finally find their groove. He would leave Pocono Raceway with an eighth-place finish and finish inside the top 10 in the final 11 races of 2016.
When the Chase began at New Hampshire, for the “Round of 8,” Sauter entered the Chase sitting fifth on the Chase Grid. His best finish during the first three races of the Chase would be a seventh-place finish at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.
In the second round of the Chase, the “Round of 6,” Sauter would dominate the three races at Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix, earning two victories in the first two races and a second-place finish at Phoenix. He would then enter the “Championship 4” round in the highest Chase seed.
Sauter would have some work to do after the green flag dropped. He would start the race 19th and as the lowest running Chase driver. Though it wouldn’t take him very long to work his way into the top 10. When the race ended, Sauter would find himself as the new Camping World Truck Series champion by being the highest four of the Chase drivers. He would also end the race with a third-place finish.
“I just ran a smart race,” said Sauter after climbing from behind the wheel of his Silverado at the championship stage. “I’m not going to lie when we qualified as poorly as we did today I thought this was going to be tough to do because you’ve got to take tires here on every pit stop. There is not real easy way to get track position, so I knew we were going to have to do it by pit stops and passing people. I just can’t thank everybody at GMS Racing, Allegiant Travel and Chevrolet, ECR horsepower, this is awesome. To be a champion, I’m speechless.”
William Byron, who would have had made it into the final four at Homestead had he not blown his engine with 10 laps to go while leading at Phoenix, shocked the entire world of NASCAR in 2016.
Byron, just a rookie driver racing for Kyle Busch Motorsports, ended the season with seven victories, 11 top five and 16 top 10 finishes through 23 races. He would end the season sitting fifth in the driver points standings as he moves onto a full-time ride next season in the NASCAR XFINITY Series.
"It feels awesome," Byron said. "It's just - it's incredible. I mean this team has worked so hard all year. We just had an unfortunate situation last week that we couldn't control, but man, they brought a good truck. We qualified on the pole. These guys just are awesome. I just hate not being together with this team next year. It's just insane how good they are and so many talented people on this race team. I can't thank KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) enough, Toyota, Kyle and Samantha (Busch), everyone at KBM, Liberty University - it's just amazing."
The North Carolina native signed a development deal with Hendrick Motorsports that will begin next season with JR Motorsports. Byron’s relationship with Dale Earnhardt Jr. goes back to when the young driver raced Late Models with JR Motorsports.
The remaining Chase drivers, Matt Crafton, Christopher Bell and Timothy Peters, finished seventh, eighth, and ninth in the season finale at Homestead. Crafton was the highest qualifier out of those four.