Over the course of six races, Brad Sweet watched an almost 100-point lead shrink to 16 as David Gravel went on a late-season run and now chases Sweet into the World of Outlaws Sprint Car World Finals on November 2, 4-5. Sweet is looking for his fourth consecutive championship. He finished second in the two seasons preceding that streak.
After finishing second last year and third in four straight seasons from 2016 through 2019, Gravel seeks his first.
Sweet’s fifth win of the 2022 season came at Sharon Speedway in Hartford, Ohio in late September. It was his 10th consecutive result of sixth or better and with a 96-point lead at the checkers, fans may have assumed he would walk into the finale at the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway with very little pressure on his shoulders. Over the next five events, he netted four more top-10s.
But Gravel was mounting a charge. At Sharon, Gravel finished three positions behind Sweet in fourth. His next six races ended in top-fives, including his seventh win of the season at I-80 Speedway in Greenwood, Neb.
In all of those races, Gravel finished ahead of Sweet, piling up points like straws on a camel’s back. The gap was manageable until a disastrous outing at Williams Grove in Mechanicsburg, Pa. in the most recent race before the finale.
In the 60th annual National Open, delayed from earlier in the month by remnants of Hurricane Ian, Sweet recorded his first DNF (failure to finish) in 166 races. Gravel finished fifth. Sweet broke an axle on Lap 5 of the 40-lapper. Prior to that misfortune, he completed all 5,461 laps in his 166-race streak.
Sweet could concentrate on finishing ahead Gravel or within one position of him for the next three races. That would be enough to give him the title in a series that awards 150 points for winning and 146 for second place. Sweet believes that is a great way to lose focus, however.
“If you’re going in there looking for a top five, you’re going to lose,” Sweet said in a press release. “You have to go in there, putting all the cards on the table and try to win each night.
“Essentially, we’re pretty much tied going into a three-race weekend. We know [Gravel is] going to be hungry. They’re going to be good. They have been. Especially for the last eight to 10 races they’ve been on a good stretch. That’s what’s put them in this position.”
Sweet has been solid at Charlotte with a fifth-place average finish over the las six races. Gravel has been better with an average result of 1.8 in that same span that includes four wins.
“All I do is plan on running the best I can every night and hopefully running up front and just keep applying that pressure,” Gravel said. “You never know what could happen.”