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Truck Series stunner: Johnny Sauter, GMS Racing split, effective immediately

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With just over one month to go before the start of the 2019 Gander Outdoors Truck Series season, GMS Racing announced Wednesday it has parted ways with veteran driver Johnny Sauter.

The move is effective immediately, the team said in a media release.

There was no reason given for the sudden split between both sides. The media release added, “future plans regarding the driver of the No. 21 team will be forthcoming.”

Sauter becomes the second Truck Series champion in the last three seasons to be without a team. Also still looking for a ride for 2019 is last season’s champion, Brett Moffitt, although several reports already have Moffitt replacing Sauter at GMS Racing.

While appearing on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s SiriusXM Speedway with Dave Moody Wednesday afternoon, Sauter said he was informed by GMS around Noon ET on Wednesday that he was being released and then alluded to Moffitt potentially replacing him. Here are some of Sauter’s comments:

* On reports of Moffitt replacing him: “If he’s bringing something, it’s more than I’m bringing. Let’s just leave it at that. I don’t pay to race. If I had that kind of money, I’d be racing something else probably. … I had actually heard this rumor about being ousted out of that truck a month ago. I asked some questions and nothing ever was mentioned about it. Yeah, it’s late in the game, Daytona is a month away, there’s not a hell of a lot I can do about it. …. That’s the nature of the beast. It’s an expensive sport. Owners need money not just from sponsors today, but drivers as well.”

* On his three-year tenure at GMS: “GMS has been a great place, we accomplished a lot of things. If they don’t need me, you don’t need to be there. Like my dad always said, if you’re hand ain’t broke, you’ll never go hungry. So, I’ll figure out something to do.”

* Where does he go from here? “What’s next for me? I don’t have a clue. Rides are pretty scarce, rides that you want to drive. We’ll just have to see what shakes out. … It’s one of them deals where I’m not going to drive junk. If an opportunity doesn’t present itself, I don’t have to do it.”

Sauter said he has already spoken to one team about a ride, but did not reveal which team or the nature of the conversations: “I’ve reached out to one guy and that’s about it. … I’ve had a taste of what it’s like to drive good stuff and bad stuff. I’m not going to just drive junk. … I’m not above calling anybody, but once they hear you’re not driving anything, if they need you, they’ll call you. I’m not going to pester people or bother them because I know I wouldn’t want to be bothered.”

Sauter came to GMS Racing after a long and successful tenure at ThorSport Racing. When Moody asked if there was a possibility to return there, Sauter said, “If Duke and Rhonda (Thorson) would have me, of course I’d do it in a heartbeat. They have their four teams and four drivers and I’m sure, a month away from Daytona, they probably have their plans figured out. … Duke and Rhonda were great for me. They rescued my career when I didn’t have anything. They have plans and they’re going to go down the path they’re on. If they need me, I’d love to do it, and if they don’t, I understand that, too.”

A native of Necedah, Wisconsin, the 40-year-old Sauter joined Statesville, North Carolina-based GMS in 2016 and went on to win the Truck Series championship that season, earning three wins, 12 top fives and 19 top-10 finishes in 23 races.

Sauter finished second in 2017 and fourth in 2018 for GMS — even with a career-high six wins in what ultimately was his last with GMS.

“We cannot thank Johnny enough for his contributions to the growth and success of GMS Racing,” said team president Mike Beam in the release. “He won the first championship for us and added a lot of trophies to our shop. We wish him all the best for his future endeavors, both in and out of racing.”

The team will go forward with Sheldon Creed in the Truck Series for the 2019 season, as well as John Hunter Nemechek in the Xfinity Series and Sam Mayer in the ARCA Racing Series. A GMS representative said more information will be forthcoming from the team on its 2019 plans on Thursday.

Sauter has 244 career starts in a Truck, with 23 wins. He also has 85 NASCAR Cup races without a win and 207 Xfinity starts with three wins.

In addition, all four drivers who competed for the 2018 Truck championship will not be with the same teams in 2019 that they were with last season.

The 2019 Truck Series season kicks off Feb. 15 in the NextEra Energy 250 at Daytona International Speedway.

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Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman ‘clear the air’ about All-Star incident

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CONCORD, N.C. — Five days after Clint Bowyer threw several punches at Ryan Newman as Newman sat in his car after the All-Star Race, the two sat side by side during an autograph session at a Bass Pro Shops near Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Bowyer was upset with Newman for contact that led to Bowyer crashing after last weekend’s race. After Bowyer drove to pit road, he ran to Newman’s car while still wearing his helmet — earning a rebuke from his team owner for not removing his helmet. After reaching Newman’s car, Bowyer unleashed a number of punches.

Both drivers talked this week before they got to the autograph session.

“It was good to have a conversation about it,” Bowyer said Thursday night after qualifying eighth at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600. “At the end of the day there were a lot of things that escalated very fast and obviously got out of hand.

“There’s one thing I can always promise you about something like that and it is unfortunate, and you hate having things like that happen, (but) that’s probably the best attended autograph session at Bass Pro Shops that I’ve had in a long, long time.

“Obviously I don’t want to do that every weekend. At the end of the day we all love this sport, we are all passionate about this sport and every now and then that shows a little brighter.”

Bowyer was asked if he thought Newman would retaliate.

“I don’t know,” Bowyer said. “Hopefully it’s behind us. We both have a little better understanding of how it escalated into that and you’ve just got to get stuff like that behind you.”

Newman said it was good to talk to Bowyer about what happened.

“It was good to kind of clear the air,” Newman said. “It is what it is. It’s the past. Just something you always remember. You learn about somebody in a situation like that.”

Newman was asked if he’ll race Bowyer differently.

“I try to race everybody the same way and that’s hard because that’s what I get paid to do,” said Newman, who qualified 18th for the Coca-Cola 600. “I try to give-and-take when I came. The way it works anymore with stage points, especially in the All-Star race, you don’t give and take. You take.”

Starting lineup for the Coca-Cola 600

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William Byron will start first and Aric Almirola will start second for Sunday’s 60th running of the Coca-Cola 600.

Byron, 21, is the youngest pole-sitter in the race’s history.

The top five is completed by defending race winner Kyle Busch, 2017 race winner Austin Dillon and two-time 600 winner Kevin Harvick.

Click here for the starting lineup.

William Byron wins pole for Coca-Cola 600

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CONCORD, N.C. —  William Byron won the pole for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Byron claimed the top spot with a qualifying speed of 183.424 mph. At the age of 21, he’s the youngest Coca-Cola 600 pole-sitter.

It’s Byron’s second career Cup pole, joining his pole in this year’s Daytona 500.

He beat out Aric Almirola (183.069 mph), Kyle Busch (182.933), Austin Dillon (182.766) and Kevin Harvick (182.741).

“This is awesome, a dream come true,” Byron told FS1. “Obviously, I grew up in Charlotte so I came to this race every year. It’s a dream come true to qualify on the pole next to Hendrick Motorsports across the street over there. … Can’t think of a better way to start the weekend.”

Byron has qualified on the front row five time this year and four times in the last seven races.

The pole is the 12th for Hendrick Motorsports in the 600, which leads all teams.

Busch has qualified in the top three for the last three 600s.

Corey LaJoie‘s No. 32 Ford failed pre-qualifying inspection twice, resulting in the ejection of an engineer.

Click here for qualifying results.

Joey Logano and family mourn their dog

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CONCORD, N.C. — Joey Logano provided a sobering update Thursday night about the family’s lost dog, Luigi.

The dog had been missing since Tuesday.

Logano’s wife Brittany wrote on a Facebook post for lost and found pets in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area that the family’s French Bulldog got out of their fence Tuesday night.

“Our little Luigi I believe he’s stolen, I think,” Joey Logano said earlier Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “We can’t really put a match to anything. We put a bunch of signs up and things on social media and we watched the cameras at our house and we see him running around the backyard and then you don’t see him again. Not really sure what happened there.”

“We’ve learned that Frenchies are one of the most stolen dogs around. It’s kind of sad that someone does that. It’s a member of your family. It’s a jerk move. Hopefully, we can figure it out.”