CONCORD, N.C. – Two points, two positions and two drivers are the variables in play going into the final night of the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series season on Saturday.
After 71 features, 10 months on the road and thousands of laps around dirt tracks across the country, either Brad Sweet or Donny Schatz will walk out of The Dirt Track at Charlotte with the series championship at the end of a scheduled 30-lap feature around the four-tenths-mile oval.
Sweet enters the final day of the Can-Am World Finals with a scant two-point margin over Schatz.
The Kasey Kahne Racing driver and Grass Valley, Calif., native is seeking his first World of Outlaws title and the honor of becoming the 10th different Outlaw champion since the series’ inception in 1978.
While he knows full well all the accolades that are at stake, Sweet is doing his part to not let the pressure of the moment get to him as he tries to beat the man who has won the last five Outlaw titles.
“Honestly, this weekend feels just like a big race to me, or a bigger race, like the Kings Royal and Knoxville Nationals,” Sweet told reporters after a fifth-place finish Friday night. “That intensity, you can feel it in the air and you know there’s just a little more on the line than the first place pay here.
“Donny’s going for his 11th (title). He’s been in these situations. He’s got a lot of experience. We’re new to this and obviously there’s a little bit of nerves, but at the end of the day when when I get in the race car, I feel settled and it was calm tonight,” he added. “I know I need to just do my job and honestly, I think we did a good job in the opener there. I thought we could have maybe ran third or fourth if the race would have played out a little different, but that was the best finish we were going to get with the cards we were dealt.
“Saturday’s a new deck and we’ll come back and play the best hand that we possibly can.”
The math is relatively simple, as far as the two title contenders is concerned. Either one will clinch the championship if they win the Saturday-night World Finals feature outright.
With only two points separating them and a four-point swing between first and second place on the race track, Saturday’s World Finals trophy has never been more important than it will be this season.
If neither Sweet nor Schatz wins the race, then Sweet must finish within one position of Schatz to prevent Schatz from overhauling him, as Sweet holds the tiebreaker with 16 wins to Schatz’s 11.
Schatz, on the other hand, must beat Sweet by two positions on the track if he’s not victorious in order to clinch the crown.
The Fargo, N.D., who is seeking his sixth title in a row and the 11th of his Outlaw career, isn’t worried about the math at all going into the season finale. He made it clear Friday night his sole focus is winning.
“Championships are won by winning races. If I win the race tomorrow, guess what? I’m probably going to be a champion. If I don’t win the race tomorrow night, it’s going come down to some mathematical equation that I have no control over,” Schatz explained. “I can tell you what we’re going to try to do tomorrow, and that’s win the race.
“These guys are capable of it. We had a car capable of it there. We just didn’t do it.”
While some may look at Saturday as an intense day for all involved, Schatz was as relaxed as ever in discussing his chances and what it will take him to bring home another title for car owner Tony Stewart.
“I’ve been in this position for damn near 15 years, racing for a championship,” Schatz noted. “It’s what we do. It’s what we’re expected to do. It’s what we’re comfortable doing. To say that I’m stressed out about it is not realistic at all. I live for being in the pressure-cooker positions. That’s where it’ll make you or break you you know?
“It’s made us a lot of times, so we’ll try it one more time tomorrow and see if it can make us again.”
On the other side of the ring, one pit over, Sweet was equally calm and steely as he geared up for the final battle and, potentially, a career-defining moment for himself and his NAPA Auto Parts team.
“I knew coming into this weekend that we were going to have to contend for a win one of the nights and probably be in the top three to five (in the other), just because he runs so well here,” Sweet said of Schatz. “You’re not going to run around mid-pack and be able to keep an eight-point lead.
“We know what we have to do. He knows what he has to do. I feel ready and we’ll go at it once more.”