Johnny Sauter celebrates in Victory Lane at Homestead-Miami
Credit: Sean Gardner
by Courtney Horn
Johnny Sauter won his first NASCAR title Friday night after finishing third in the Ford EcoBoost 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Sauter passed former teammate and Championship 4 contender Matt Crafton on Lap 119 to take the driver standings lead, which he kept for the rest of the evening.
Sauter came from the back after qualifying 19th in his No. 21 Chevrolet, but with hard work and adjustments, the 38-year-old found his way to the front quickly.
"It’s not just me," Sauter said, "It’s the whole team — everybody at GMS Racing. We qualified bad today, and really, I was kind of worried about it. But it felt pretty good in race trim.
"To be a champion ... five years ago my old man was down here when I won the race. This is for him and for Joe Shear’s dad — great Midwest racers. My family’s here, my kids are here, my wife’s here. It’s just an awesome night. Proud to be champion, and we’ll do everything within our power to represent NASCAR and Camping World as best we can."
All eyes may have been on Sauter, but he wasn’t the only one celebrating. The 2016 Rookie of the Year, William Byron, won the race — his seventh Camping World Truck Series victory, a rookie record.
"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. Qualified on the pole."
Byron also earned the owner championship for Kyle Busch Motorsports. The title is the organization’s fourth straight and fifth overall win in the series.
Byron took the lead on Lap 125, after battling Brad Keselowski Racing’s Tyler Reddick.
"These guys just are awesome," Byron said. "God, I hate leaving this. I just hate this team not being together next year. It’s just insane how good they are, and so many talented people on this race team. Can’t thank KBM enough, Toyota, Kyle and Samantha (Kyle Busch’s wife), everyone at KBM, (sponsor) Liberty University — it’s just amazing."
Reddick, who failed to make the Chase, heads to NASCAR’s XFINITY Series in 2017 along with Byron.
Byron’s teammate Christopher Bell finished eighth after struggling throughout the evening. Bell never gained ground to battle for the race win, but finished third in the championship standings after a strong season.
Crafton finished the race in seventh after holding onto the championship lead for most of the race, but failed to deliver after the handling of his Toyota went south. Peters, who finished ninth, closed out the Championship 4.
The final 2016 NCWTS standings:
Champion: Johnny Sauter
Second: Matt Crafton
Third: Christopher Bell
Fourth: Timothy Peters