Slow start in World of Outlaws Sprint Cars for Brad Sweet turns around with Vado win

Brad Sweet slow start
World of Outlaws

A slow start for Brad Sweet ended at Vado (New Mexico) Speedway Park this past Tuesday with the first 2022 win for the defending World of Outlaws champion. With this victory, Sweet snapped a 26-race winless streak dating back to the 2021 Labor Day weekend at Skagit Speedway in Alger, Washington.

“It has felt like forever,” Sweet said after going winless for the first 10 races of the season. “We just got stuck points racing last year and didn’t take those risks you need to win against these guys. As far as this year though, we’ve been fast all season and knocking on the door of getting this win. … This is the time to be getting better.”

It must have felt like forever for Vado to get their first race in the books also, after their inaugural race was canceled due to COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021.

Leading the points can be a double-edged sword. Winning his third consecutive title last year, Sweet wrapped up the points’ championship with two races remaining. His 2019 honor was not earned until the final race of that season in a tight head-to-head battle with Donny Schatz and Sweet wrapped up 2020’s championship with one night remaining.

But the title came with a cost.

Protecting his lead, Sweet focused on solid finishes at the end of 2021 and could not afford to take too many risks. He failed to win in the final 16 races, but had seven top-fives in that span and finished the season with five top-10s.

Sweet’s 2022 start was in stark contrast to 2021 when he won the February 5th opener at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida and became the first repeat winner of the season at Cotton Bowl Speedway in Round 8 in Paige, Texas. After that win, Sweet rattled off three more victories so that by this time last year he had a firm grip of the points with four wins under his belt.

With victories evenly distributed among seven drivers in the first 11 weeks of 2022, Sweet has a notable lead over three drivers with two wins apiece. Second in the standings, David Gravel is 32 points back with Carson Macedo 34 points out of the lead and Sheldon Haudenschild 50 points behind.

Sweet led all 30 laps of the Main in Vado.

“These are honestly some of the hardest ones to win,” Sweet said. “Track position is just so key and lap traffic is tough when the track gets like this. It was hard to time the runs, and there was one time when Sheldon came across but luckily enough I was ready.

“I really didn’t want to catch any lappers, I just wanted clean air to control my own mistakes. You have to use your mind as much as you possibly can out there.”

While the need to protect points last year may have taken some of the edge off Sweet’s performance, it underscored the need for consistency – and that has been the saving grace of 2022. A 16th-place finish in the season opener momentarily put Sweet on the back foot, but he responded by finishing third and fifth in the next two races at Volusia. Since then, he has not finished worse than seventh.

Now that Sweet has won, he sets his sight on the Outlaw Sprints all-time top-10 list. His win in Vado was the 75th of his career and if he wins nine more times this season, he will tie Stevie Smith for 10th on the list. Sweet has double-digit wins in two of the three previous seasons with 16 each in 2019 and last year.

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).