CONCORD, N.C. – The 2017 World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series season saw Donny Schatz claim his ninth series title aboard Tony Stewart’s No. 15 entry.
Schatz, who turned 40 in August, has now won five of the last six championships and will chase his 10th title next season, but not without heavy resistance from David Gravel, Brad Sweet and the rest of the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series regulars.
Gravel, 25, capped off a career season with a thrilling victory in the season finale at The Dirt Track at Charlotte on Saturday. The win doubled his and CJB Motorsports’ win total from last season and left them even hungrier heading into the offseason.
“It’s been a lot of fun. I’m glad I was able to give Barry Jackson a career year. He deserves it; he is the heart and soul of this team. We are very excited for next year,” Gravel said.
Despite Gravel scoring 12 more wins than Brad Sweet, the latter took the runner-up position in the point standings. If Gravel wants to challenge Schatz for the series title next season, he will need to find more consistency on a nightly basis.
Then again, Sweet’s always the bridesmaid, never the bride model was unprecedented. In comparison to his five wins, the Grass Valley, Calif., native scored 14 runner-up finishes and 18 additional third-place finishes this year. While that is nothing to hang your head over, being so close to victory that many times has to leave a bittersweet feeling heading into the new campaign.
“It’s always easy to look at the negatives, but we had a ton of positives this year. It took a lot of teamwork to stand up here. It’s not easy to be second in points. We’ll keep trying and will be better next year,” Sweet said at Sunday’s World of Outlaws banquet.
As for Schatz, his season once again speaks for itself. The Fargo, N.D., native score his 10th 5-Hour ENERGY Knoxville Nationals victory as well as becoming the first driver to score back-to-back Kings Royal victories. Those two wins alone garnered Schatz $200,000 in winnings.
“It’s been a hell of a ride. See you all next year,” Schatz said amidst a handful of jokes and stories at the World of Outlaws banquet.
While Schatz is without a doubt the man to beat, it wasn’t always that way. At age 25, Schatz scored just two wins in World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series competition and finished seventh in the point standings. It wasn’t until 2006, at age 29, when Schatz scored his first championship.
While Gravel is not quite at the Schatz measuring stick right now, Schatz himself was not at the Schatz level at Gravel’s age and experience level.
Having said that, all the pieces are in place for the Watertown, Conn., native to challenge Schatz. Gravel and CJB Motorsports are bringing back the entire crew next year and will be poised to prevent Schatz from scoring his tenth championship.
Sheldon Haudenschild was awarded the Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year as both he and fellow rookie contender Brent Marks vastly improved throughout the season. Haudenschild leaned on the experience of veteran crew chief Bonzai Bruns and his father Jac Haudenschild for guidance on new tracks.
Meanwhile, Marks had only one full-time crew guy all year, and neither of them had seen any tracks west of Knoxville. Expect both young guns to be ready to go for next season.
In addition, several additional awards were handed out during the banquet on Sunday.
Chassis Builder of the Year: J&J Auto Racing
Engine Builder of the Year: Shaver Engines
Crew Chief of the Year: Barry Jackson, CJB Motorsports
Ted Johnson Outstanding Contribution to Sprint Car Racing: Carlton Reimers
VP Racing Fuels Award: Donny Schatz
KSE Hard Charger Award: Logan Schuchart