CONCORD, N.C. – Even though Brad Sweet effectively locked up his second World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series championship Friday night, there was no real celebration.
That’s because Sweet knew, even as he climbed out of his car at The Dirt Track at Charlotte, that the job was only half done.
Sweet may have cinched up the driver’s title with an unassailable 50-point margin over Logan Schuchart, needing only to start Saturday’s feature to officially secure the honors, but the owner points race remained very much in flux thanks to David Gravel’s third-straight Charlotte victory.
With the win, Gravel just Jason Johnson Racing’s deficit in the teams championship down to just 22 markers entering the 54th and final race of the season Saturday at the four-tenths-mile dirt track.
That means Sweet will need to finish 10th or better to give Kasey Kahne Racing its third World of Outlaws owner’s title. And that meant, for the Grass Valley, Calif., native, there was no time to rest.
“Locking it up a night early definitely eases the pain of coming to the race track Saturday and knowing there’s another one to fight for,” Sweet noted. “There’s still an owner championship up for grabs and we want to get that just as bad as we wanted to get the driver championship. We’re still keeping our heads down and staying focused. Obviously Gravel won the race and gained on us, so it’s still pretty tight.
“We’ll have to be on our game, that’s for sure.”
Sweet’s path to the title rode several peaks and valleys, particularly through the course of the summer.
He won eight times, but also had a string of four DNFs that kept both Logan Schuchart and Donny Schatz close enough to strike until the NAPA Auto Parts No. 49 found its stride again down the home stretch.
Friday night showed a glimpse of that recaptured speed. Sweet started fifth and ran among the top five all 30 laps in the feature, battling for a podium spot late in the going before lap traffic and dusty conditions shuffled him back slightly at the end of the race.
It bolstered Sweet’s confidence and has him eager to “finish the job” during the last race of the year.
“We had a great race car all night. I don’t see any reason why we can’t come back and capitalize again tomorrow,” Sweet noted. “I know we’ve never won here at Charlotte, but we’ve been close and we know this team is capable. If we come back Saturday like we did tonight, I think we’ll have a shot.”
For Sweet to lock up the title a round early, even after the dismal summer months his squad endured, there was a sense of pride. It came down to racing smart, not taking too many risks and pouncing when necessary.
He’ll look to do all three of those things one more time during the Last Call finale, and perhaps secure a maiden victory at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in the process.
“Sometimes you get into stretches on this deal where you just have to get the best finish you can every night,” Sweet explained. “I felt like there were some nights this year where maybe we could have raced for the win and just didn’t want to put ourselves into a bad situation.
“We might not have gotten as many wins as we’d have liked to this season, but we had to make sure we were finishing because every race is important,” he added. “I’m glad to come out on top, but I don’t feel satisfied yet until Saturday night is over and we hopefully have that owner championship as well.”
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