Column By: BRIAN WALKER / WORLD OF OUTLAWS – COLUMBUS, MS – One weekend on the sidelines was more than enough; It’s time to get the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series back on track.
A Dirty South doubleheader awaits The Greatest Show on Dirt this weekend with a pair of second-ever appearances coming in Mississippi and Louisiana. It’s the first of 36 consecutive weeks of racing as the Series’ 90-race grind gets underway.
Magnolia Motor Speedway has first honors with a Friday night under the lights in Columbus, MS. A four-hour ride to the west takes teams to The Rev in Monroe, LA for a Saturday night showdown.
Let’s look at some of the top storylines entering this weekend.
WHO’S NEXT: For the 27th time in 45 seasons and third consecutive year, the World of Outlaws has opened a season with at least three different winners to get the ball rolling. Fresh off the DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park, fans saw a trio of triumphs split by Donny Schatz, Sheldon Haudenschild, David Gravel.
Plenty of other stout options remains viable to keep the streak alive with names like Brad Sweet, Carson Macedo, Logan Schuchart, James McFadden, Kasey Kahne, Spencer Bayston, Kraig Kinser, Jacob Allen, Brock Zearfoss, Jason Sides, Bill Rose, Noah Gass, and others still chasing their first checkered flag of 2022 this weekend.
The all-time record remains eight different winners to start the 2015 season – Pittman, Schatz, Sweet, Stewart, McCarl, Brown, Kaeding, Abreu.
MAG-NIFICENT: For being known as a Late Model track, The Mag sure brings the Sprint Car faithful out in droves when the World of Outlaws comes to town. Last year’s Series debut at the Mississippi gumbo 1/3-mile was met with plenty of fanfare as Logan Schuchart and Shark Racing saw their perfect night stopped by Sheldon Haudenschild thanks to a late-race slidejob in lap traffic aboard the NOS Energy Drink #17.
REV-VED UP: Transitioning from asphalt to dirt, The Rev enjoyed a national coming-out party last year when David Gravel & Brad Sweet fought tooth and nail in a race of the year contender which featured 13 lead changes. Both fans and racers alike have high hopes for this return to country-music star Dylan Scott’s promotion on Saturday night.
STARTING STRONG: Only four drivers escaped Volusia’s DIRTcar Nationals with a top-10 finish in every Feature, and more specifically, only one man left with a top-five finish from every night. That momentum will be crucial in carrying these teams through the early portion of the 90-race schedule.
- David Gravel and Big Game Motorsports unloaded out of the box with immense speed, scoring a fourth, a second with a broken shock, and a dominating win to start the year with the Big Gator Championship. Now the Watertown, CT native returns to the site of one of his most impressive 2021 victories with a chance to keep the streak alive.
- Donny Schatz and Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing backed up their second-half performance of 2021 by starting the new year with a season-opening win at Volusia. The 10-time Series champion is at full strength aboard the Advance Auto Parts, Carquest Auto Parts, Ford Performance #15 with wins and consistency the only thing on his mind.
- Sheldon Haudenschild and Stenhouse Jr. / Marshall Racing had no luck at Volusia in 2021 but pulled a 180 to leave Florida with finishes of 10th, first & fourth this year. The NOS Energy Drink #17 now returns to The Mag as the defending winner with a chance to become the first repeat winner of the new season.
- James McFadden and Roth Motorsports immediately clicked with their new partnership beginning with runs of ninth, sixth, and third at Volusia. After missing the opening six races of last year, the Australian is bound and determined to fully capitalize on a complete World of Outlaws campaign in 2022.
REDEMPTION: For Kasey Kahne, this weekend allows an opportunity to redeem himself from last year’s trip to these tracks and his last run at Volusia. He suffered a violent crash into the fence during the Last Chance Showdown on Saturday, February 12, but has taken his extra time off to recover and make sure he’ll be at 100% for round four of 90+ in his first full-time attempt with the World of Outlaws.
When it comes to The Mag & The Rev, these southern venues saw two of Kahne’s most brilliant moments in 2021 when he subbed for James McFadden aboard the Karavan Trailers #9. The Enumclaw, WA native drove all the way from 23rd to fifth at The Mag and earned the pole position at The Rev before finishing sixth. This year, it’s about finishing the job and securing his first-career Series win.
‘TIL YOU CAN’T: The Dirty South Swing brings Noah Gass of Mounds, OK back to the site of his first-ever World of Outlaws appearance at The Mag and his first-ever World of Outlaws Feature start at The Rev. The only difference in that 365-day span is this time the ambitious 18 year old is returning as a full-time competitor with the Series.
Along with crew chief Cody Cordell & Robby McQuinn, Gass’ decision to dive headfirst into the pool of Outlaws can be as simple as looking at Cody Johnson’s hit single ‘Til You Can’t. They’ve got a chance and they’ve taken it.
REBOUND RATE: For half of last year’s top-10 championship finishers, it wasn’t exactly the start to 2022 they had dreamed of at DIRTcar Nationals. This weekend’s stop at Magnolia and The Rev is their next chance to rebound and build their momentum with a long season ahead.
- Fresh off a championship podium in 2021, Carson Macedo and Jason Johnson Racing struggled to get the new year going with the only highlight of Volusia being a fourth-place finish on Friday. The Albaugh #41 boys look for new at The Mag and The Rev, where a DNF & seventh-place run plagued them in 2021.
- A DNF in Friday’s Feature at Volusia stole Logan Schuchart’s chance at scoring three top-10 finishes to start the year. The good news for the Shark Racing, DuraMax #1S is that this team was dominant at Magnolia last year, nearly sweeping the night before ending up second to Haudenschild.
- Kraig Kinser’s results of 22nd, 19th & 23rd are not indicative of the speed in the Mesilla Valley Transportation #11K. The Bloomington, IN native was running second on the final night at Volusia and tracking down leader David Gravel before a lost tire sent him careening into the wall.
- Brock Zearfoss of Jonestown, PA consistently improved at Volusia, upping his game from 17th to 14th to 11th by the final night. The #3Z driver ended 2021 with a stellar runner-up result at Charlotte and looks to relocate that speed and build his momentum sooner rather than later in 2022.
- Jacob Allen battled an up-and-down week between DNFs and top-five finishes at Volusia. The Mag and The Rev offer a chance at consistent stability for the Hanover, PA native as he continues to run the Bobby Allen #1A tribute design in 2022.
NEW CHALLENGE: Of 15 full-time Outlaws, Spencer Bayston of Lebanon, IN, Bill Rose of Plainfield, IN, and James McFadden of Alice Springs, NT are the only three that will face The Mag and The Rev for the first time this weekend. That number was drastically different last year when the Series debuted at both tracks, but now the majority have turned laps and built a notebook at these southern circles.
For Bayston, the leading Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year contender can at least lean on his CJB Motorsports #5 crew chief Barry Jackson, who raced at both tracks last year with Brent Marks at the wheel. For Rose, who is returning to full-time status after a 2021 season spent recovering from surgery, he’ll head into this weekend looking to regain some momentum. For McFadden, he missed last year’s race while traveling from Australia, but has the advantage of building off strong runs by Kahne in the #9.
OUTSIDERS VS. OUTLAWS: Along with the standard cast of characters of full-time Outlaws, a group of invaders will join the swing through the Dirty South this weekend at Magnolia and The Rev.
Among the expected are headliners like Rico Abreu, Tyler Courtney, Cory Eliason, Brent Marks, Brian Brown, Giovanni Scelzi, Aaron Reutzel, Sam Hafertepe Jr, Ayrton Gennetten, Derek Hagar, Carson Short, Carson McCarl, Brian Bell, and more.