Column By: NICK GRAZIANO / WORLD OF OUTLAWS – CONCORD, NC – You may see a 16-point difference between Brad Sweet and David Gravel in the 2022 championship battle, but to Sweet they’re “essentially tied.”
With that mindset, Sweet’s focus for the World of Outlaws World Finals (Nov. 2-5) season finale at The Dirt Track at Charlotte has changed. Rather than “milking” a healthy points gap, he’s now taking a more aggressive approach for the three nights of racing.
“If you’re going in there looking for a top five, you’re going to lose,” Sweet said. “You have to go in there, putting all the cards on the table and try to win each night. If you have a (large) point lead, I think, you don’t take the risks, or roll the dice. But when someone, basically, essentially, we’re pretty much tied going into a three-race weekend. We know [Gravel and his Big Game Motorsports team are] going to be hungry. They’re going to be good. They have been. Especially for the last eight to 10 races they’ve been on a good stretch. That’s what’s put them in this position.”
For Sweet, of Grass Valley, CA, and his NAPA Auto Parts Kasey Kahne Racing team, a fourth consecutive World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series title is on the line. For Gravel and his Big Game Motorsports team, it would be their first.
The two have battled all year, mirroring their season stats. While Sweet has been more consistent throughout the year, Gravel has been on a hot streak recently. The Watertown, CT driver has scored seven top-five finishes in the last seven races, including at win at I-80 Speedway, versus Sweet’s three top fives – one being a win at Sharon Speedway – and five top 10s in the last seven.
That’s helped Gravel close the points gap and take advantage of Sweet’s rare DNF at Williams Grove Speedway – where he suffered a broken rear end. Before then, Sweet and his KKR team were on a streak of 5,481 laps completed and 166 straight races without a DNF.
To ease the heartbreak of the situation, Sweet said he’s put all his focus on winning at Charlotte.
“Everybody probably handles emotion differently,” Sweet said. “For me, obviously, with doing this for so long, when something happens my mind just moves to the next thing… But I don’t want to dwell on any negativity or what could have been or what should have been. When you go down that path and spend time on the negative stuff, you’re not putting the time where it needs to be. Right now, that’s in preparation and studying where the car needs to be. What I need to do as a driver to get the job done and that’s the task in front of us.
“Williams Grove is done and dusted. Charlotte is ahead of us. It is what it is. I always tell the guys, ‘It could always be worse.’ We’re still ahead in points. We worked hard to get to this point. It’s going to be a great battle. It’s great for the Series. Great for the sport. Now there is going to be a lot of eyes on us. I’m just happy that I’m involved in that conversation.”
While Sweet is focused on the tasks ahead, he also admitted the intensity of the week is still high. He’s averaged a fifth-place finish at The Dirt Track at Charlotte in the last six races there – since winning his first title in 2019. But Charlotte is one of Gravel’s best tracks, averaging a 1.8 finish in the last six races – sweeping the doubleheader in 2019 and picking up a win there the last two years.
“The intensity level is more like when we went there only a couple of points ahead of (10-time Series champion) Donny (Schatz) in 2019, chasing our first championship,” Sweet said. “I guess the difference is we have three more (championships) than we did the situation before. I don’t know that I feel the same pressure. Getting that first one is always the most difficult.
“Pretty comfortable with our accomplishments as a team, where we’re at as a team. Obviously, you can’t help part failures. Things happen. I think at this point I’m looking at it one race at a time. Going in trying to win each race. If you do that, the points are going to fall into your favor. It just comes down to being as prepared as possible. Trying to execute the best that you possibly can.”
The biggest difference this time, he said, is he has a better control of his nerves.
“When you’ve been in the situation, you know the feeling that you get,” Sweet said. “I think that helps for me. It calms me down a little. I don’t think… that year (in 2019), there were just a lot of emotions. It was really hard to control but it was really intense with the team. We worked extremely hard to be as prepared as we possibly could. We have that knowledge and we’ve been in that situation. We’re not treating it any different.”
If Sweet can hold on for his fourth consecutive title, he’ll join Steve Kinser and Schatz as the only three drivers in Series history to have won four straight World of Outlaws championships, and four titles in general. If Gravel finds his way to the top, he’ll become the 11th different World of Outlaws champion.
“All I do is plan on running the best I can every night and hopefully running up front and just keep applying that pressure,” Gravel said. “You never know what could happen.”
With Sweet’s view on the championship battle situation entering World Finals, his only goal is to win.
“I think we need to win a race [at World Finals],” Sweet said. “I think it is important for us to finish strong and for the points, as well. If you’re winning, no one can win points on you.”
Fans can meet Sweet and Gravel, along with the rest of the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series stars on Thursday, Nov. 3, during the World Finals Fan Fest, from 2-4pm, along the front stretch – open to all ticketed fans. The World of Outlaws Sprint Car Features will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 2, Friday, Nov. 4, and Saturday, Nov. 5.