Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: A Swan Song Season for Johnny Sauter?

For the first time since the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series’ season opener at Daytona International Speedway, Johnny Sauter will return to competition behind the wheel of Niece Motorsports’ No. 45.

Sauter, along with Kaden Honeycutt, Connor Mosack and Ross Chastain, were announced as the drivers of the No. 45 for 2024, though none of their individual schedules have ever been announced. So far, Sauter, Mosack and Chastain have only been in the truck once apiece, while Honeycutt has run three races. That will change on Friday (April 12) when Sauter returns to the track at Texas Motor Speedway.

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Over the last three seasons, Sauter has taken on part-time schedules with various teams. In 2023, Sauter ran three races with Roper Racing (coincidentally, Honeycutt opened the 2023 season with the team). 2022 saw him jump between three teams, running Daytona with G2G Racing, before running four races with his long-time former team ThorSport Racing. He then finished out his six-race season in Young’s Motorsports’ flagship No. 02 in the season finale at Phoenix Raceway.

Sauter has dialed the racing back significantly, and now he has joined Niece, a team that can contend with teams like ThorSport for wins and great finishes after spending most of the last two seasons with severely underfunded teams.

At Daytona, Sauter led 24 laps (second only behind race winner Nick Sanchez) and won the first stage. He was in contention the whole race until a late crash ended his night.

So could 2024 be Sauter’s last season?

It’s hard to say with the longevity of racing careers, especially given Sauter is only running part-time on top of that. Sauter has run at least one NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series and/or Truck Series race every season since 2001. He is the last Sauter remaining in NASCAR competition. HIs father Jim, brothers Jay and Tim, and nephew Travis have all contested races in NASCAR. Johnny is the only Sauter remaining, and has been for at least a decade.

Sauter’s home has been in the Truck Series where he’s found his most success. He has 24 wins in the series as well as his crowning achievement, a Truck Series championship. He gained the honor in 2016, back when he was with the now-defunct GMS Racing.

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His Cup Series career didn’t pan out, and his Xfinity Series career didn’t do much better (though he nabbed three wins as consolation). He hasn’t had the smoothest career by any means, but he could potentially be a fringe contender for Hall of Fame nomination down the road.

Sauter has put the work in. He has paid his dues. He’s had positive and negative publicity. He’s a fiery driver. He’s earned his play time. It wouldn’t be surprising if this deal with Niece is nothing more than a chance for the almost-46-year-old to go out with one last moment of victory and aid Niece towards a potential owners’ title for the No. 45.

Despite the part-time schedules over the last few seasons, losing Sauter would be a huge loss for the Truck Series. He was one of the dominant drivers of the series in the 2010s as mentioned. I already talked about the Sauter name and its longevity in the sport. But also it’s another veteran leader stepping away as the younger generation takes over.

With other veteran drivers like Matt Crafton and even Grant Enfinger nearing retirement in the next few seasons, we’re not far off from the true changing of the guard from the lifelong Truck Series veterans to the up-and-coming talent looking for the opportunity to race on Sundays one day.

Sauter, clearly, is content with going truckin’, much like Crafton and Enfinger. Except for a select few drivers such as Ben Rhodes and Stewart Friesen, most of the Truck Series talent today is there to get promoted. A Sauter retirement means one less longstanding trucker to show the way for the younger kids.

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One thing is for sure, and that’s no one knows for sure except the man under the helmet. Only time will tell if the races Sauter competes in this season are his last.

So I advise — whether you love or hate Johnny Sauter (he is somewhat polarizing) –to savor the moments he’s on track.

Because when he does decide to hang it up, it’ll leave a hole in the series that will be hard to fill.

Truckin’ Tidbits

  • Other notable entry list changes for the upcoming race at Texas include Kris Wright driving TRICON Garage’s No. 1 (his first of two races this season), Kyle Busch back behind the wheel of Spire Motorsports’ No. 7, and Zane Smith in the McAnally-Hilgemann racing No. 91.
  • Rookie of the Year candidate Conner Jones returns to ThorSport Racing’s No. 66 this week after missing the last two races at Martinsville Speedway and Circuit of the Americas. He’ll then miss the next race on May 4 at Kansas Speedway before returning again May 10 at Darlington Raceway. Cam Waters drove the No. 66 at Martinsville; FOX Sports 1 reported he would race Kansas, but neither Waters nor ThorSport have confirmed this.
  • Tensions were high between Daniel Dye and spotter Kevin Hamlin (no relation to Denny Hamlin) at Martinsville. The exchange, which began as Dye was racing teammate Tyler Ankrum, can be found here. Hamlin later said on Reddit that they cleared the air the next day. Hamlin also said he’ll step back as Dye’s spotter to focus on spotting for Sam Mayer‘s Xfinity Series team and Alex Bowman‘s Cup Series team.
  • Best Value Carriers made its debut on Bret Holmes‘ No. 32 at Martinsville, and will adorn Holmes’ truck for an additional nine races this season.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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