BARBERVILLE, Fla. – The wild hunt commenced Sunday night at the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series finale at the DIRTcar Nationals presented by Bozard Ford.
The trophies: A golden gator. And a Big Gator.
Logan Schuchart put an assault on the 27-car field in front of a packed house to earn his first win at Volusia Speedway Park and Brad Sweet cruised to his third podium finish in a row, earning him his second Big Gator championship. Sweet won his first Big Gator in 2016.
“It was a lot of fun,” Sweet said about the event. “I thought we had a lot of different tracks all week. The NAPA car was fast on all the different conditions, but we’ll take that… 2020 is looking to be a strong year for us.”
Schuchart, who had never finished inside the top-five and never led a lap at the half-mile speedway, ended his DIRTcar Nationals with three top-five finishes in-a-row and 50 laps led. He placed second the first night. Charged from 25th to fifth the second night. And won the DIRTcar Nationals Sprint Car Week finale.
“This place is just so tough,” Schuchart said. “You know, we come here, we learn, I watch videos in the wintertime. We just try to make our cars better as a whole.
“Just kind of studying the race track. Notes from the past. Watching the highlight videos from the past few years and what other people’s cars look like compared to ours and maybe what we could have done better to qualify and put us in better positions… First three races were awesome. To pull away with a win really helps our confidence.”
That confidence showed before the conclusion of Sunday night’s 30-lap Feature when the Hanover, PA driver powered his way underneath Daryn Pittman on Lap 2 to take the lead. From there, he never relinquished it, leading the final 29 laps. Although, those on the hunt behind him tested his poise.
Schuchart held a commanding lead on the field but as lap traffic continuously hindered his pace, Pittman closed in. With 10 laps to go, Schuchart got caught behind a slower car coming off turn two, allowing Pittman to close within a car length’s distance.
However, once Schuchart found his way back into clean air, Pittman was left having to fend off Cory Eliason and Sweet.
In the closing laps of the race, Eliason found another gear. With five laps to go he charged his way around the outside of Pittman for second and set his sights on Schuchart. Three laps later, with smoke billowing out of his exhaust, Eliason powered his way around Schuchart off turn two.
Not willing to forgo his first DIRTcar Nationals win, Schuchart threw a hold-your-breath-slide job on Eliason through turns three and four to reclaim the lead.
A large cloud of smoke erupted from Eliason’s motor the next lap, ending his night. The yellow flag flew with one lap to go.
On the restart, with Pittman and Sweet breathing down his neck, Schuchart darted away from the field. No one could touch the red and white Drydene car. Pittman and Sweet had to settle for second and third, respectively.
“Just pissed off at myself,” Pittman said. “I feel like if I would have stayed second… Man, like on that white flag, I couldn’t believe how far back he (Schuchart) came to me and Cory (Eliason). Honestly, I think it was anybody’s race going down the backstretch there on the white flag lap. We were kind of nose to tail. I wish I would have been in second there, I think I would have had a shot.”
Behind the top-three, Sheldon Haudenschild had one of the most impressive runs of the race in his NOS Energy Drink No. 17 car. For the second time in three races during the DIRTcar Nationals, Haudenschild earned the KSE Hard Charger award, racing his way from 18th to fourth.
Ten-time series champion Donny Schatz, who opened the World of Outlaws season with a win, found himself having to settle for a seventh-place finish. He finished sixth the night before.
Sweet started the DIRTcar Nationals being presented his 2019 World of Outlaws championship ring and ended it being presented his second Big Gator trophy. He’ll also leave Florida with the Series points lead – two points ahead of Schuchart.
The championship is far out of Schuchart’s head with more than 80 races to go this season. He said his focus is just to win as many races as he can. Nabbing his first golden gator trophy is one he can finally cross of his list.
“I really wanted one of these gators,” Schuchart said. “I’m really glad we got one.”
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