BARBERVILLE, Fla. – After ending the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series campaign last year on top of the world, Brad Sweet opened the new season in the exact same position Friday night.
Sweet charged to victory in the first World of Outlaws-sanctioned feature of the 50th DIRTcar Nationals, powering past early leader Jacob Allen on lap nine of 30 at Volusia Speedway Park and dominating the rest of the way.
The two-time defending series champion paced the final 22 circuits at the half-mile dirt track and took the checkered flag 1.128 seconds clear of runner-up Logan Schuchart, who won Wednesday at Volusia.
It marked Sweet’s eighth career series win at Volusia and his 59th victory overall with the World of Outlaws, breaking a tie with David Gravel for 14th on the all-time list.
In victory lane, Sweet pointed to tricky track conditions and a late change to his Kasey Kahne Racing with Mike Curb No. 49 sprint car as big factors in his commanding performance.
“My guys gave me a great race car there,” Sweet noted. “We struggled in the heat race, so we tried a little something in the Dash and it hit (well), and then we went even further with it in the A (Main) and it made things really good. I think we found a little something that caught us up, compared to where we were. The race track was definitely a lot more grueling in this one. It was high speed. The bottom was really technical. You had to miss the hole in (turn) one and slow yourself down to get any speed on exit, and down there, you had to be really close to the inside wall or else it was real slick.
“It was tricky. I had a lot of fun,” Sweet added. “I wasn’t sure where to be sometimes, whether I needed to be on the top lane or the bottom lane. I was judging off of lapped cars, but sometimes they’re hard to judge off of, and I was thinking about my tires too and making sure I managed them. The bottom keeps them cooler, but sometimes the top just gains speed here. So I tried to search around and do the best job I could, but I felt like I drove a really good race.”
Friday’s feature began with five-time ASCS national champion Sam Hafertepe Jr. on the pole alongside Allen’s Shark Racing No. 1a, and on the initial start it was Allen who took a bite out of the field by jetting to the lead from the outside pole.
An early caution slowed the pace with three laps scored for the stalled car of Hunter Schuerenberg, but Allen ruled the restart from the low line and held serve over Sweet and Schuchart as Hafertepe faded.
It took four laps before the leaders reached slower traffic, but as soon as they did, Sweet roared in to pounce at the front. He worked the bottom lap after lap, eventually using the short way around to clear Allen exiting turn four coming to the end of the ninth circuit after Allen bobbled on the cushion.
Once out in front, Sweet took off to a sizable advantage, while Allen’s teammate Schuchart snuck through to claim the second position just before a lap-12 caution for Sheldon Haudenschild, who had a right-rear tire go down in turn four.
Sweet maintained his command on the ensuing restart, pulling out to more than two seconds with 10 to go as David Gravel moved in and briefly stole second from Schuchart before the No. 1s countered right back.
Meanwhile, from 18th, 10-time World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series champion Donny Schatz was charging forward and reached the podium on lap 21, but no one had anything for Sweet at that point.
Sweet went unchallenged over the remaining distance to become the third different winner in as many sprint car features during the golden running of the DIRTcar Nationals.
Schuchart’s runner-up finish allowed him to maintain his DIRTcar Nationals Big Gator point lead through three of the five scheduled nights, while Schatz finished third to earn hard-charger honors after advancing 15 positions.
Gravel and Thursday All Star winner Carson Macedo were fourth and fifth, respectively, followed by Aaron Reutzel, Allen, Brent Marks, Kasey Kahne and Joey Saldana.
Though he’s on top early, Sweet was quick to advise that fans shouldn’t read too far into his performance Friday night, with a long and grueling season still ahead of the World of Outlaws travelers.
“It doesn’t mean a whole lot when you win the first one, because there’s still 89 more to go,” Sweet said.
Hafertepe led the way in qualifying with a lap of 13.268 seconds. He, Schuchart, Aaron Reutzel and Allen won their respective Drydene heat races, while Parker Price-Miller topped the Last Chance Showdown.
To view complete race results, advance to the next page.