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Brett Moffitt joins GMS Racing to defend Truck title

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GMS Racing announced Thursday that reigning NASCAR Truck champion Brett Moffitt will drive the team’s No. 24 ride in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series. GMS Racing made the announcement a day after stating that Johnny Sauter would not return to the team.

“I’m excited to be given the chance to defend my 2018 championship,” Moffitt said in a statement from the team. “I have to thank the Gallagher family and everyone at GMS for this opportunity. I can’t wait to start working with Jerry (Baxter, crew chief) and the guys to kick off the season at Daytona in a few weeks.”

Moffitt needed a ride after he was replaced by Austin Hill at Hattori Racing. Despite winning the championship, Hattori Racing struggled to find sponsorship throughout the season. Moffitt said after winning the title in November he didn’t know where he would drive this season.

The 26-year-old Moffitt won six races last year. He has seven career Truck wins in 36 starts.

“Brett will be an excellent addition to the GMS organization,” GMS team president Mike Beam said in a statement. “Last year he showed the racing world the amount of talent and determination he has, especially while facing some adversity throughout the season. We look forward to helping him win his second championship and ours as well.

“We have a strong driver lineup in every series we’ll compete in this year. Maury Gallagher has given us the tools and personnel we need to compete for several championships.”

In a Thursday afternoon teleconference, Moffitt called the signing an “11th hour” deal and said discussions between him and GMS started “in-between the holidays. They just wanted to see what I could bring to them and what they could for me and if I was still available.”

Moffitt said “a few existing partners” that have been with him through the years will be on the No. 24, but he’s not sure how often.

Even with those partners, Moffitt said staying with Hattori was “never an option.”

“Quite frankly, I don’t think it would have been enough to move the needle,” Moffitt said. “I think GMS has given us a really good platform where we can take some of our current partners and their current partners and help build it all.”

Before the GMS opportunity arrived, Moffitt said he “had options open.”

“None of them that would necessarily lead to me being in race-winning equipment, which is what I wanted ultimately,” Moffitt said. “A few opportunities in less than impressive Cup stuff. We had talked with some Xfinity teams as well. The biggest thing for me is to go out and try to compete for a championship and win races. I was kind of holding out and hoping a deal like this would come together.”

Moffitt said he considered at one point settling for opportunities to run limited races in winning equipment.

He said the deal from GMS was the “best deal out there by far and I think it’ll be one of the best positions I’ve been in in my career.”

Moffitt cited a relationship with GMS that originated in one Xfinity Series start for the team in 2017 when he finished 11th at Iowa Speedway.

“Just kind of always been in talks on-and-off,” Moffitt said. “When this opportunity opened up to them, I believe I was the first person they called about it. I’m just glad we were able to make it happen.”

The rest of the GMS Racing lineup for 2019 features:

  • Rookie Sheldon Creed in the No. 2 Truck with Doug Randolph as crew chief.
  • John Hunter Nemechek in the No. 23 Xfinity car with Chad Norris as crew chief.
  • Sam Mayer in the No. 21 K&N Pro Series East ride. He’ll also run limited ARCA and Truck races.

GMS Racing also stated that Halmar Friesen Racing renewed its technical alliance with GMS Racing to field the No. 52 for Stewart Friesen.

Daniel McFadin contributed to this report

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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Austin Hill joins Hattori Racing Enterprises in Truck Series

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Austin Hill will drive for Hattori Racing Enterprises in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series this season, the team announced Tuesday.

Hill takes over the No. 16 Toyota from Brett Moffitt, who won six races and the series title for the team last year. Moffitt revealed in early December that he would not be returning to the team due to a lack of sponsorship.

Moffitt has not announced any plans for 2019.

A native of Winston, Georgia, Hill is a former member of the NASCAR Next program who competed full-time for Young’s Motorsports in the Truck Series last year and finished 11th in the standings.

Hill has 51 Truck starts since 2014 with one top five in last November’s race at Texas Motor Speedway

He also earned five K&N Pro Series East wins from 2013-15.

The No. 16 will be sponsored by Toyota autodealer Chiba Toyopet in the season opener at Daytona. United Rentals will be a sponsor in multiple races. The team was sponsored by Ibaraki Toyopet and Kobe Toyopet in one race each in 2018.

“I’m thrilled to join HRE this season,” Hill said a press release. “(Owner) Shige (Hattori) has built a great team and what they accomplished last season has me extremely optimistic heading to Daytona. I’ve had the pleasure to work with great teams in the past, including my family’s team in the K&N Series, but this is an opportunity of a lifetime at HRE. Scott and the team proved what they’re capable of last season, and I can’t wait to get to work and see what we can accomplish this season.”

Scott Zipadelli will return as the team’s crew chief.

“I’m really looking forward to racing with Austin and continuing our team’s success,” Zipadelli said in the press release. “Austin is a great kid and has a lot of potential. He has a great track record in the K&N Series and put together a strong year last season with Young’s Motorsports. I think he’ll transition well into our program and fit right in with our group.”

Hattori also announced this week it will return to competition in the K&N Pro Series East with Max McLaughlin in the No. 1 Toyota.

McLaughlin’s team will run engines prepared by students from NASCAR Technical Institute’s (NTI) Spec Engine Program.

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2018 Truck Season in Review: Brett Moffitt

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Brett Moffitt

CREW CHIEF: Scott Zipadelli

TEAM: Hattori Racing Enterprises

POINTS: First (Won championship in his first full season)

WINS: Six (Atlanta, Iowa, Chicagoland, Michigan, Phoenix and Homestead)

LAPS LED:  269

TOP 5s: 13 (Career-best; earned three top fives in six races in 2016)

TOP 10s: 13 (Every top 10 was a top five)

POLES: None (Best starting position was fourth at Texas II)

WHAT WENT RIGHT: His Atlanta win put Moffitt in the playoffs early as long as the team attempted to qualify for all of the races … Six wins tied for the most during the season with Johnny Sauter; no one else had more than three … Won the final two races of the season.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Sponsorship woes plagued the team all season. In Week 11, they considered missing the race at Chicagoland before a sponsor was found at the 11th hour with Fr8Auctions.com. Moffitt won that race … Most often was forced to overcome poor starting position. Qualified on the first two rows only once and the first three rows six times; notably his last three races began in the top five.

WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2019: Despite winning the championship, Moffitt will not return to Hattori Racing and no other plans have been announced.

Xfinity, Truck series banquet highlights

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On Saturday night, The Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series gathered for their awards banquet at the Charlotte Convention Center.

Here are some highlights from the banquet:

Xfinity Series

Tyler Reddick was crowned the Xfinity driver champion with Stewart-Haas Racing taking the owners championship.

Cole Custer finished second, Daniel Hemric was third and Christopher Bell finished fourth.

Camping World Truck Series

Brett Moffitt and owner Hattori Racing Enterprises grabbed the top spot in the Truck series.

Noah Gragson finished second with Justin Haley third and Johnny Sauter fourth.