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.