CONCORD, N.C. – After five years with perennial kingpin Donny Schatz at the head of the class, the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series has a new champion.
Thirty-three-year-old Brad Sweet, from Grass Valley, Calif., defeated Schatz on the final night of the season Saturday during the Can-Am World Finals to capture his first Outlaw championship, fulfilling a dream in the process.
Sweet, who entered the last feature of the year a scant two points up on Schatz in the standings, knew that he essentially needed to keep the No. 15 Toco Warranty car behind him all night in order to secure the prize.
That happened in the end, but it looked like it wouldn’t at the start.
With Sweet rolling off third for the 30-lap main and Schatz starting eighth, it took just six laps before Schatz was within striking distance, as he passed Sweet coming off turn four to move onto the podium.
But that pass lit a fire under Sweet that burned bright enough to ensure it wouldn’t happen again.
Sweet drove back around Schatz coming off turn two on the seventh revolution and, from there, never trailed Schatz again. He even drove away handily from the 10-time Outlaw champion down the home stretch.
In the end, Sweet finished as the runner-up in the main to David Gravel, while Schatz completed the podium. It made for a final margin of four points in the series standings – the closest title tilt ever.
None of the numbers mattered to Sweet after the race, however. His lone focus was soaking in the moment as he sat atop the pinnacle of sprint car racing, a place only nine men before him had been.
“I feel really relieved. I finally feel like I can breathe normally again,” Sweet said after securing his first World of Outlaws title and becoming just the 10th champion in series history. “It’s just different than winning big races. A championship is just a different level. You try to act like it won’t affect you if you lose, but it’s been the most stressful couple days of my life to be honest.
“I tried to act like it wasn’t, but inside it was until we got the job done here tonight.”
That job was sealed with a daring turn-one slider on lap seven, a move and a pass that Sweet said later he had to make if he wanted to win the championship.
“I never wanted to see the (No.) 15 pass me,” Sweet said. “I wanted to control our own destiny. I knew if I was ahead of him, he couldn’t beat me. When he passed me, luckily, he slipped off four and I was able to pass him back. And I told myself right then and there, ‘you better run the best race of your life or you’re not going to win this thing.’”
As he got closer and closer to the checkered flag, “the race of his life” was exactly what he ended up having, even if Sweet didn’t take home the feature trophy in the end.
He didn’t need to, though. A second-place finish on this night was more than enough.
“I’ve never been so happy to run second in my life,” Sweet admitted with a smile. “I was rooting for David at the end, cheering him on and telling him to go. Close to the finish, I wanted him to run away and get gone there. I knew that if he won and we finished ahead of Donny, it was ours.”
Sweet was right, but the night didn’t come without one final nervous moment.
With 10 laps remaining, Sweet’s championship dreams flashed before his eyes when Danny Dietrich spun off the second corner right in front of “The Big Cat,” who cranked the wheel as hard as he could and narrowly avoided hitting Dietrich’s stalled No. 48.
After that, Schatz could do nothing with Sweet’s No. 49 following the final restart, as Sweet drove home to a historic maiden title.
“I just didn’t want anything stupid to happen, and sometimes you just get lucky,” Sweet noted. “When you’re racing, you’re just kind of in race mode and those instincts are there. I’m just happy now. Nothing stupid happened. I didn’t hit any white tires. I avoided the wreck. We did it. We finally did it.”
In 72 starts this season, Sweet earned 16 wins, including the $175,000 Kings Royal at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway. He posted 47 top-five and 65 top-10 finishes to end the year with 9,998 points in total.
“It’s a long grind, running (almost) 80 races out here. There’s a lot of ups and downs and to finish it right here, it made me cry, for sure. It’s been a huge team effort to accomplish this championship and my hat is off to Donny Schatz for stepping up and putting tons of pressure on us. He’s an unbelievable champion. I don’t know how he’s done this 10 times where we’re just getting our first one.
“The first one means so much, though, and you can bet we’re going to do a little celebrating.”
Sweet will be honored for his 2019 championship Sunday night at Great Wolf Lodge in Concord, N.C., during the World of Outlaws’ season-ending awards ceremony.