Johnny Sauter spent Thursday afternoon decidedly out of his element, as a celebrity chef in what was dubbed a "Culinary Throw Down" at the Kansas City Kansas Community College Technical Education Center.
Sauter was paired with a culinary student in a competition to create the best plate of tailgate food using a mystery box of ingredients.
“I was told just to come here. I had no idea this was a competition,” Sauter said with a laugh. “I was joking a little while ago that I make a mean bowl of Cap’n Crunch. I never cook.”
On Friday night, however, Sauter will be where he’s most comfortable: behind the wheel of his No. 21 GMS Racing truck in the "37 Kind Days 250" race at Kansas Speedway.
NASCAR bills the Camping World Truck Series as a proving ground for the next generation of top drivers. William Byron still hadn’t graduated from high school when he won the 2016 Truck Series race here. Byron is now in his first season on the Monster Energy Cup series after winning the Xfinity Series title last year.
Sauter, who began the month by celebrating his 40th birthday, outdueled 19-year old Noah Gragson to win last week’s race at Dover, Del., his second race victory of the season.
“It’s a combination of a lot of little things," Sauter said. "My third year with GMS is a contributing factor, knowing my guys, knowing my crew chief and clicking and picking up where we left off last year. We’re just being smart every week, and trying to execute.”
Despite a roster filled with young, up-and-coming drivers, Sauter remains the man to beat in NASCAR's Truck Series. He owns a massive 51-point advantage over second-place Ben Rhodes in the series standings. The gap between second and 10th is 50 points.
This is nothing new for Sauter. He has 19 career Truck Series wins. He won the 2016 series title, finished second in 2017 and was fourth in 2013-15.
Sauter has competed and driven well in NASCAR’s top two series. But the Truck Series is home, and Sauter has no plans on leaving.
“Honestly, at this point in my career, the biggest thing is my family,” Sauter said. “I’ve got four kids, and the Truck Series gives you an opportunity to spend more time at home. And a lot of the Cup opportunities you’re going to get are not good enough deals. I’m a competitive guy, and if I don’t have an opportunity to go out and run up front, I don’t need to do it, plain and simple.”
The crowds will be smaller on Friday night than they will be on Saturday, and the spotlight will not be quite as bright.
But that suits Sauter, a Wisconsin native, just fine.
“I don’t need to be part of the big show, or any of that," he said. "Truck Series has been fun. I’ve got an opportunity to win every week, except for Eldora (a dirt track in Ohio where he’s historically struggled), and spend more time with my kids. That’s the biggest thing.”