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.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.