One year ago, heading into the cutoff race for the first round of the Playoffs, Johnny Sauter held the lead in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series points standings and had no doubt he would be advancing the Round of 6.
But this year, Sauter is in danger of “going home” following the upcoming Round of 8 cutoff race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Friday, September 13 at 9 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Currently, Sauter sits in seventh on the Playoff grid – two points and one spot behind his ThorSport Racing teammate Grant Enfinger, who currently holds the final position that would transfer to the Round of 6.
Sauter has never been eliminated from Gander Trucks title contention before the final race of the season during the era of the elimination Playoffs format (since 2016).
He doesn’t find himself on the outside looking in because of a particularly bad performance in either of the opening races of the Playoffs – he was 11th at Bristol and sixth at Canadian Tire. Instead, all of the 2019 Gander Trucks postseason contenders are proving they belong in the title talk and are also posting strong finishes – which gives Sauter little to no room to rise up in the standings.
Sauter hasn’t won a race since Dover at the beginning of May – a streak of 12 races without visiting Victory Lane. That’s a bit of an unusual drought for the driver of the No. 13 ThorSport Racing Chevrolet – but it might not be a bad sign for his Playoff hopes. This season, in a way, looks a bit similar to his 2016 campaign – a campaign that ended with the championship trophy hoisted above his head in Miami.
In 2016, he started off the season with a win at the opener in Daytona. He then went winless for 18 races – but excelled when it counted by winning at Martinsville and Texas in the second round of Playoffs. Those were his only three wins that season.
Sauter will need to turn it up at Las Vegas, a track he has one win at – in his first race there in 2009, in order to have a shot at repeating the magic of 2016. He’s recorded six top fives and nine top 10s in 12 starts at the track. And of those, four are runner-up finishes, including both races in 2018.
But, on the season, Sauter hasn’t finished in the top five since his win at Dover in May. He needs to end that drought on Friday night.