CONCORD, N.C. – Eight points. That’s all that separates Donny Schatz and Brad Sweet in the battle for the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series championship.
The battle will – one way or the other – be decided this weekend during the Can-Am World Finals at the The Dirt Track at Charlotte.
Sweet enters the three-day finale to the season as the championship leader, albeit by the aforementioned eight points.
He’s won a series-high 16 races this year in his quest for his first series championship, but he admits none of that matters unless he and his Kasey Kahne Racing team are able to seal the deal this weekend.
“It’s been a good season so far, but you know, obviously we have unfinished business,” Sweet said Thursday prior to qualifying. “We’re doing a great job and I’m really happy with our performance. Obviously I still feel like there’s room for improvement and we’re going to keep working to get even better. We’ve done everything right up to now, but it doesn’t really matter, you know, unless we finish the job.”
For Schatz, a 10-time series champion in search of his 11th title, The Dirt Track at Charlotte could prove to be a trump card. Schatz has scored multiple victories at the three-eighths-mile dirt track, while Sweet has failed to find victory lane at the venue.
The North Dakota native said he isn’t changing his approach to the weekend, despite the tightness of the title fight between himself and Sweet.
“I don’t know that I’d call it a title fight with Brad Sweet, it’s a title fight within our own team,” Schatz said. “We go out and try to do our job and you’re supposed to win races. The rest of it takes care of itself. You don’t change anything because you’re racing against someone else. We’re not really racing against someone else. We know what we’re capable of, we’ve done it 10 times.
“We know we’ve been good around here in the past, we’ve just got to make sure we do everything right this weekend.”
Sweet has spent the last five seasons pursuing Schatz in the Outlaw standings, with Schatz getting the better of him every season.
This time, Sweet enters the World Finals as the points leader, and he believes the experience he’s gained over the last few seasons will help him as he attempts to seal the deal on Saturday night.
“I think the first couple of years it just seemed so, you know, unattainable,” Sweet said of his pursuit of a championship. “As I went on and got closer and closer, just with getting better as a driver, you know, getting more experienced on the Outlaw tour, I think there was a time it finally clicked a few years ago where, you know, I realized that we can do it. We can beat the 15 team. We can be the guy to beat if we just really buckled down, stayed focused, worked really hard, got the right people in place and really focused on all the little things that add up to get the car right.
“I think at Kasey Kahne Racing, we’ve done a great job last few years to really figure all that out, put the pieces of the puzzle together and give me the opportunity to go out and shine,” Sweet continued. “We’ve worked hard to get to this point and we’ve done everything right. We’re in the points lead, so there’s just no need to to change anything or change a mindset. There’s a reason that we’re in this situation and we realize that. It’s just all systems go. Like every other night.”
Not that Schatz needs the incentive, but he has a little extra motivation to win his 11th title this year. His Tony Stewart Racing team recently switched to the long-awaited Ford 410 sprint car engine.
He’s already won twice with the new motor and thinks adding a championship to close out the year would be a perfect way to thank everyone who worked so hard and so long on the development of the power plant.
“Obviously it’s been a long time coming. There has been a lot of work that no one knows about,” Schatz said. “We’ve caught a lot of criticism over things. We’ve been criticized by people who don’t know how anything works, especially developing a motor from the ground up with a brand new block.
“We’re excited about it. It’s done a good job. It’s got us two wins and we’ll see what it does here this weekend.”
Obviously Schatz wants to win an 11th championship, but if he doesn’t, then that’s OK as well.
“Hopefully we come out on the right end,” Schatz said. “If we don’t, well, there will be another day.”