Over the course of the 46-year history of the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series, there have only been 10 champions and with one night of the World Finals completed, defending three-time champion Brad Sweet wants to keep it that way. David Gravel looks to become number 11.
The World of Outlaws enter the World Finals with a championship battle for the first time since 2019, when Sweet won his first title by overcoming defending 10-time champion Donny Schatz. Sweet took the championship that year by four points, the smallest margin of victory in Outlaws history. In doing so, he ended Schatz’s five-season winning streak.
Three years later, Sweet sits in a similar position to Schatz – defending his spot at the top of the proverbial hill and trying to secure his legacy. Sweet stands to take the sole position of third most championships if he can maintain his season-long lead through World Finals. He’s currently tied with Sammy Swindell and only behind Schatz and 20-time Champion Steve Kinser.
“It’s just something that you don’t really think about while you’re in the moment,” Sweet told NBC Sports before Race 1 of the World Finals. “You’re always setting goals and trying to accomplish the task in front of you.
“Obviously, getting that first championship was a huge hurdle for us and luckily we have a great team and great sponsors. We were able to string this together. Once you win you don’t want to get knocked off the top. This year is no different. Even though we have three we’re taking this very seriously. There’s a lot of intensity in the building and you can tell that everybody’s mind is on trying to win the championship.”
Entering World Finals weekend, Sweet was 16 points ahead of Gravel. With 150 points going to first place, 146 to second, and two more points separating each position below that, Sweet stands on a tightrope. Every night and every position matters.
“Everything is on the table,” Sweet said. “You race all year in order to try and win the championship. For it to come down to the last weekend makes the weekend feel like a much bigger race. Maybe like a Knoxville Nationals or a Kings Royal, [there’s] just a lot more on the line for David and me than the rest of the field.
“We know that we have to be on our game; we’re just taking it one night at a time. Go to the race track each night and try to have the best result that we possibly can. Just like we have all season. Don’t want to overdo it or change too much. There’s definitely more on the line for David and me. I think it should be a pretty good battle to finish the season here.”
This year the World Finals adjusted their weekend structure to give each division three full nights of racing.
Wednesday, November 2nd was the first night of action for the Sprints and Late Models.
Sweet and Gravel both made the Fast Dash, which secured a starting spot on one of the first four rows. Gravel started two spots ahead of Sweet with the opportunity to leverage that position into an advantage. Two bad starts in the eight-lap dash dropped Gravel to eighth, while Sweet capitalized and advanced from seventh to second. That secured a starting position on the front row.
At each point during the Night 1’s event, neither team got a chance to breathe. One strong performance was not enough of a difference maker. Each race, like each season, and each champion quest brings a new set of challenges and challengers.
“[In] 2019, trying to win my first championship, [there was a] four-point differential with Donny Schatz, the 10-time champion,” Sweet describes the situation, “It’s not easy to win these championships. Every year something new arises, or there’s another challenger, or you have to overcome some adversity. This year is no different, obviously, we’d like to have it clinched or have a bigger lead, but this is the situation in front of us and we’re going to go out and give it our all.”
On Wednesday night, Nov. 2, the points differential grew from 16 to 22 after. Neither driver can or will let up.
To win a championship, Gravel needs to hold his momentum from his end-of-season run and bounce back. A race in which he finished sixth and ran behind Sweet through the feature is the definition of a bad night when things are this close.
Sweet needs to hang on, push past consistency and pull a championship-caliber move.
Now, it all comes down to the Friday and Saturday features. It’s a battle between the hunger for a first championship and the chance to secure a legacy.
“No matter what, you always want the opportunity to win a championship when you come to the last weekend of the year so if you’re in that conversation it’s good,” Sweet said. “It’s a lot of pressure for it to come down to one weekend. Even though we’ve been here before, you still feel it, you still know the moments are bigger than just a standard race.
“David, I’m sure, is hungry. Wants to be a Champion. His team has done a good job all season, especially towards the end here, they were able to capitalize on some of our mistakes and put themselves in a good spot.
“They’re going to go out there and throw everything they have at it. Because five or six races ago it didn’t look like it was possible. The fact that they have a chance is probably gratifying to them. I’m sure that they’re going to give it all they’ve got just like we are.’
With an average finish of 1.8 to Sweet’s fifth, Gravel is a master at The Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway. World Finals has always been a place for him to potentially grab a win and remind fans, competitors, and sponsors where he stands in the series. Sweet has yet to secure a win. Gravel will have to race the track with the pressure of a potential championship for the first time, we don’t know how that will affect performance.
Gravel and the Big Game Motorsports team made up 80 points in just six races heading into World Finals. With three to go in last night’s feature Robbie Price’s crash set it up for Gravel and Sweet to line up nose to tail for a single-wide restart in third and fourth position. A pass would make up two more of his 16 points any position loss would increase the valley between him and Sweet. The three-time champion maintained position while the contender was plagued with another bad restart falling from fourth to sixth.
“He had a good run to end the season,” Sweet said about Gravel, “It all comes down to Charlotte. I think if you go out there and are thinking that you’re going to coast and collect, I don’t think you’re going to win. Racing for wins each night and trying to be up towards the front of the field if you want to win the championship.”