NASCAR Truck Series veteran Johnny Sauter currently sits in 15th place in the championship standings, and his stats are pointing in the wrong direction. Is he at risk of failing to qualify for the playoffs for the first time?
With only two races to go before the NASCAR Truck Series playoffs, veteran Johnny Sauter could be on the verge of missing the cut for the first time in his career.
Sauter currently finds himself in 15th place in the championship points standings, 99 points below the cut line for the 10-driver field.
The 42-year-old Necedah, Wisconsin native has not finished worse than ninth place in the championship standings since he started racing full-time in the Truck Series in 2009.
His lone championship came in 2016, the first year of the playoffs, but he has seen a decline in his finishing position every year since, finishing in second place in 2017, fourth in 2018 and sixth last year.
For his streak of top nine finishes in the championship standings to continue, Sauter will need to make the playoffs. Otherwise, he can finish no higher than 11th place. A closer look at his season shows that things could have been a lot different right now.
Sauter received minimum points in four races, with three DNFs and a disqualification. Todd Gilliland, who sits right above the cut line in 10th place, has had three DNFs, and every other driver ahead of Sauter has had only one or two.
Three of those four results came due to team factors, with DNFs taking place as a result of an engine issue and a vibration and the disqualification coming as a result of a tire violation.
Sauter’s team also received 10-point penalties before the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and after the race at Michigan International Speedway.
Sauter has an average finish of 16.4 in 14 races, but if you remove the DNFs and disqualification, his average finish is 9.0 in 10 races. That would be the second best in the series.
While those four races are a large part of his points deficit, his overall results do not help. Sauter started on the pole and finished in second place at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in the second race of the year, he has not been that close to a win since racing returned from the hiatus. He has only recorded two top five finishes in the 12 races since the restart.
Overall, he has recorded seven top 10 finishes in the 10 races when he was running at the finish, but that alone won’t cut it, as only three top five finishes won’t keep pace with the top contenders. He has also been unable to capitalize on stages, picking up points in only eight of 28 stages this season with just one stage win.
If there is any good news for Sauter, it’s the fact that he is one of the few drivers to race a truck at Darlington Raceway and Richmond Raceway, the final two tracks on the schedule before the playoffs. The former hasn’t hosted a race since 2011 while the latter hasn’t hosted a race since 2005.
Sauter finished in fourth place at Darlington Raceway in 2010 and ninth in 2011, and he finished in 10th at Richmond Raceway in 2003 and 11th in 2004 during his part-time days. He wrecked out of his other start at the track in 2005.
While the next two races give Sauter a chance to make the playoffs, it will be hard to make up a 99 point deficit, especially when there are four drivers ahead of him who are also below the cut line.
Sauter could win his way in, having won at least one race in 10 of his 11 full seasons entering this year. But he is not one of those drivers who wins very often. Only four of those 11 seasons saw three or more wins.
Sauter’s six wins in 2018 were the most in a single season of his career, but he grabbed only one win last season after switching from GMS Racing back to ThorSport Racing. He has only recorded one win in 36 races (2.78 winning percentage) since returning to ThorSport Racing.
Sauter is a veteran driver who is consistently one of the top finishers in the championship standings and is good for at least one win per year. But this season seems different, with team errors and a lack of top five finishes. With a 99-point deficit to the cut line and only two races to win his way in, he seems likely to miss the playoffs for the first time.