CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) NASCAR Truck Series champion Brett Moffitt joined GMS Racing on Thursday in a move that cost another star driver his ride.
The driver carousel began spinning right after Moffitt won the 2018 title in November with Hattori Racing Enterprises. That team had sponsorship struggles all last season and was in danger at times of not making it to the track. Even after winning the title, the team still needed a driver that brought financial backing so Moffitt was let go and replaced by Austin Hill.
With Moffitt available, GMS Racing made the surprise decision to release Johnny Sauter just one month before NASCAR reports to Daytona International Speedway to open the season. The abrupt release came one day before Moffitt was hired.
Moffitt, who is 26, won six races last year in his underdog run to the title. Sauter, who turns 41 this year, also won six races last season but finished fourth in the championship race. Sauter won the Truck Series title in 2016, has not finished lower than fourth the last six seasons and won 13 times in three seasons with GMS.
The team thanked him for his contributions to GMS - he gave the organization its first championship - but turned its focus toward Moffitt.
""Brett will be an excellent addition,"" said GMS Racing President Mike Beam. ""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.""
Sauter was blindsided by the GMS driver change and told SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he was informed Wednesday he was out of a ride. He assumed he was released because Moffitt is bringing some sponsorship to the team.
""If he"s bringing something, it"s more than I"m bringing. I don"t pay to race,"" Sauter told SiriusXM. ""If I had that kind of money, I"d be racing something else. 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.""
Moffitt has bounced around NASCAR"s three national series and was finally able to show what he can accomplish last season in the Truck Series when he landed a ride with fledgling Hattorri Racing. That organization had to piece together funding all year and Moffitt"s job was never secure.
Even as Moffitt headed into the season finale with the championship on the line, he knew he"d likely be released, win or lose , because of finances.
Moffitt won the Homestead-Miami Speedway finale to claim the title - Sauter was one of the contenders he beat - but the celebration was bittersweet because he wasn"t sure if he"d even have a job in 2019.
""I"m excited to be given the chance to defend my 2018 championship,"" Moffitt said Thursday while thanking team owner Maury Gallagher for the job. ""I can"t wait to start working.""
More AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/apf-AutoRacing and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports