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2007 Driver Review: Johnny Sauter

Johnny Sauter
2007 Ride: No. 70 Haas CNC Racing Chevrolet
2007 Primary Sponsor: Yellow Transportation
2007 Owner: Gene Haas/Joe Custer
2007 Crew Chief: Robert “Bootie” Barker

Stats: 35 races, zero wins, one top five, two top 10s, 30th in points.
Best Finish: Fifth РRichmond, September.

High Point: Sauter’s fifth-place finish at the Chevy Rock & Roll 400 at Richmond was the best finish of his career, and it also wound up being his sole top five of the season for Haas CNC Racing. While Sauter was experiencing a rather mediocre year on the track, though, his personal life was far from mediocre. Sauter and his girlfriend of two years, Paul Menard‘s PR rep Cortney Owen, got engaged during the 2007 season – keeping any on-track struggles well in perspective. To our knowledge, the happy couple have not yet set a date for the wedding.

Low Point: With no 2006 points to fall back on, Sauter failed to qualify for the fifth race of the season when the series headed to Bristol. It was the only race he missed, but helped push his team towards the “bubble” for that coveted Top-35 qualifying exemption – a line he struggled to stay above for much of the rest of the year.

Summary: After a short absence from Cup Series racing, Sauter returned for his first full season in 2007, driving the No. 70 Yellow Transportation Dodge for Haas CNC Racing. Sauter had to qualify his way into the first five races of the season and, with one exception, he did just that. With a ninth-place finish at Phoenix in April, it looked like things were looking up for a team that was put together at the last minute for Cup racing.

But while there were flashes of brilliance for the No. 70 “Bootie” Barker-led team, those moments were usually short-lived. Whether it was being in the wrong place at the wrong time, mechanical problems or just plain being overpowered by another team, successes were few for the Haas second team. While Sauter earned his first top five of his 67-race Cup career, he also earned only eight top-20 finishes, a slump which left his team fighting to stay in the Top 35 in owner points to guarantee him a spot in the field. Sauter’s team never quite fell out of that bracket during the second half of the season, but the stress of being in that position eventually took its toll.

Still, by the end of the year, Sauter had accomplished his major goal – he led the sole new full-time team for 2007 that secured a spot in the 2008 Daytona 500. But despite all the good he did, his 30th-place finish wasn’t enough to guarantee him a job. Towards the end of the season, it was announced that Sauter would not be returning to the Haas CNC Racing team, replaced by Scott Riggs for 2008.

At least the Wisconsin native gained more fans in the process – although he wasn’t up fighting for victory every week, racing fans got to know Sauter a little better in 2007 after he was one of seven drivers who took part in ABC’s NASCAR on Primetime, a five-part series that documented the lives of NASCAR drivers.

2008 Outlook: Sauter returns to the Nationwide Series in 2008, driving the No. 1 Miccosukee Tribe Chevrolet for Phoenix Racing and owner James Finch. This will be Sauter’s second stint at Phoenix Racing, having driven the No. 1 Yellow Transportation Dodge for Finch in the Busch Series in 2005. Sauter recorded his last victory to-date in that car, winning at the Milwaukee Mile, his home track. Like Sauter, Phoenix Racing has struggled to really find a place in NASCAR, but having success in the past should translate to a smooth transition for both driver and team. With a driver like Sauter – his passion for racing and hunger for a win are unmatched – don’t be surprised to see at least a couple of visits to Victory Lane by this team.

2006 Frontstretch.com Grade: N/A
2007 Grade: D+

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Editor’s Note: The 2007 season is over, and even the Final Chase exam has come to a close – which means it’s time to give each driver their annual year-end evaluation. For the second straight year, your favorite Frontstretch staff members are giving driver reviews for every full-time wheelman on the circuit, giving you insight into the seasons of anyone from AJ Allmendinger to JJ Yeley. Be sure to keep coming in every weekday this offseason for even more original content on Frontstretch!