CONCORD, N.C. – While two championship battles will come to a conclusion during the Can-Am World Finals at The Dirt Track at Charlotte on Nov. 7-9, a third has already been decided.
Brandon Sheppard, driving for Rocket Chassis owner Mark Richards, has already locked up his second World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series title.
For Rocket1 Racing, it’s been a dominant season on the World of Outlaws tour. In terms of consistency, they’ve again set a new bar for repeated long-term success across a national dirt late model series. They have posted 36 consecutive top-five finishes, finishing outside the top 10 only once all season. It’s simply remarkable.
Then there’s the win column — a record-tying 18 wins in 39 races and a chance for World of Outlaws history at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. Two more chances, to be exact, on a track he’s where he’s won three times. With the usual huge car count and tough competition at the Can-Am World Finals, Sheppard will have his hands full to earn what has now become a bit of an elusive 19th win of the season.
Sheppard’s last six World of Outlaws starts have all been top-five finishes, but no trips to victory lane, making it the longest stretch of his season without a win. But, if history at The Dirt Track serves as any indication, the Rocket1 team should have hope to get the job done at least once over the weekend.
Last year’s edition of the Can-Am World Finals brought much different storylines into play. Chris Madden trailed eventual champion Mike Marlar by 22 points heading into Friday’s portion of the event on Saturday afternoon before suffering a broken oil line on lap six of the feature, taking him out of the championship equation.
Meanwhile, Sheppard picked up the win after a back-and-forth battle with Tim McCreadie in the closing laps, setting him 34 points back of Marlar in the championship standings with one race remaining.
Saturday’s feature again went well for Sheppard, as he collected a solid third-place finish after 50 laps around the four-tenths-mile. However, Marlar did just what he needed to stay within sight of Sheppard and the championship points battle, finishing sixth in the race and earning the crowning achievement of his career, a World of Outlaws championship.
Fast forward to this year, and the scenario is entirely different. Sheppard has built a whopping 320-point lead ahead of second-running Chase Junghans, leaving Sheppard and his crew to focus on winning their 19th race rather than holding off somebody for the championship. This will be the sixth World of Outlaws title in 18 seasons for team owner Richards, the third in the past four years with two different drivers.
That other driver has a lot in common with Sheppard. Mark’s son, Josh Richards, shares the 18-win season record with Sheppard that they each established; Richards in 2016, Sheppard in 2017. Both of those seasons were also highlighted with a very large points gap heading into the final race weekend.
In addition to Sheppard’s strong season, Ricky Weiss has also officially earned a great honor of his own, and has a chance for a unique superlative as well.
With his 16 top-fives and 29 top-10s over 39 starts, Weiss has clinched the World of Outlaws Rookie of the Year title, becoming the first Canadian-born driver to win the honor. The Headingley, Manitoba-native also held the runner-up spot in the overall points standings for quite a stretch of time over the summer, but now finds himself in fifth, 32 points out of second place after a couple DNFs in his past six starts.
Should Weiss overcome his misfortunes and reclaim at least third place in the standings before the final checkered flag falls on Nov. 9, he’ll also become the highest-finishing rookie in series history. Devin Moran, the 2017 Rookie of the Year, is the current owner of that record after a fourth-place points result three seasons ago.
Even though the series champion and Rookie of the Year have been decided, a battle for second place in the overall standings has heated up in the past three races and will come to a full boil at The Dirt Track. Spots two-through-five are separated by 32 points, and it’s anybody’s race for a $60,000 points fund check – a $30,000 difference between second and fifth.
Expect Junghans, Darrell Lanigan, Shane Clanton and Weiss all to be in tip-top shape and at each other’s throats in less than three weeks’ time.