Column By: ALEX NIETEN / WORLD OF OUTLAWS – CONCORD, NC – All Dirt Roads have led the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars to Charlotte, NC.
This year has taken the tour through 18 states from coast to coast and 34 different racetracks. Now, the thousands of miles and hundreds of laps will culminate in the World of Outlaws World Finals. The Dirt Track at Charlotte takes center stage for the four-night sendoff of the 2023 season.
The on-track action gets going on Wednesday, Nov. 1 with two Low-E Insulation Qualifying sessions to line up Heat Races for Thursday and Friday’s racing programs. Points accumulated on those two nights will set the lineups for Saturday and one final night to punctuate the World of Outlaws’ 46th season of racing.
Teams from all over will gather to chase their share of the more than $250,000 purse up for grabs. The first two nights of racing will be capped with $15,000-to-win Features before Saturday’s $25,000-to-win finale wraps up the 2023 World of Outlaws season.
In addition to the Sprint Car action, fans will be treated to the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Late Models and Super DIRTcar Series Big Block Modifieds all four nights.
Let’s look at the weekend’s top storylines:
SWEET VS. GRAVEL: For the third consecutive season, the World of Outlaws championship will come down to a duel between Brad Sweet and David Gravel. Heading into the final event of the season, Sweet owns a 50-point advantage, and Gravel has three nights to erase the gap.
Sweet is looking to complete his Drive for Five as he eyes a fifth straight title with Kasey Kahne Racing. Five straight championships would tie Sweet with Donny Schatz (2014-2018) for the second longest streak and move him within one of Steve Kinser’s record of six consecutive titles (1983-1988).
On the other hand, Gravel is chasing his first championship aboard the Big Game Motorsports #2 after finishing runner-up in the past two seasons. If he can pull it off, Gravel would become the 11th different competitor to claim a World of Outlaws championship.
In terms of overall body of work at Charlotte, Gravel has the upper hand with five victories on his résumé (tied for second most in track history) including a stretch of three straight from 2019 to 2020. Sweet is yet to win in Charlotte, but he’s been consistent as of late with nine consecutive top 10s, including seven top fives.
Not only does the championship include all of the prestige of being at the pinnacle of Sprint Car racing, it also comes with a $350,000 payday.
CATCHING KINSER: A potential fifth championship for Sweet would also make history for car owner – Kasey Kahne.
Kahne has already earned five titles as an owner with Sweet’s four and one with Daryn Pittman in 2013. If Sweet can supply him with a sixth, Kahne will equal Steve Kinser Racing for the third most World of Outlaws championships as a car owner. “The King” was champion 14 times driving for Karl Kinser and six times under his own banner.
Karl leads the way in the category with 16 titles. Tony Stewart Racing’s nine championships rank second.
FIGHT FOR FOURTH: In addition to the battle for the title, there’s a three-man war for the fourth spot in the standings. Currently, Giovanni Scelzi owns the position with Logan Schuchart 34 points behind and Donny Schatz trailing Schuchart by 20 markers. The trio are separated by a total of 54 points.
There’s history on the line for Scelzi if he can hold on. The Californian is wrapping up his Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year campaign, and fourth would equal the best rookie finish in history. Both Jeff Swindell (1981) and Brad Doty (1982) hit the mark. KCP is about to claim their second Rookie of the Year as a team after earning the honor with Ian Madsen in 2018, which will make KCP only the third team/car owner to supply multiple Rookie of the Year winners. Kasey Kahne Racing has had three while Dave Helm’s team produced a pair. Scelzi has been strong in 10 Charlotte starts with six top fives, including a 2019 victory.
A fourth-place finish in points would be Schuchart’s second best result for a World of Outlaws campaign. The Shark Racing pilot has won four times at the North Carolina 4/10-mile, most recently at last year’s World Finals opener. The Hanover, PA native has also podiumed 11 times in 28 Feature starts.
Over the years, Schatz has owned The Dirt Track at Charlotte. His 14 wins outrank the second most by nine. Two of those victories came during the final two nights of 2022. The 10-time Series champion is looking to keep his streak of 20 straight years of finishing in the top five in Series points alive.
ENDING STRONG: While some have their points position essentially settled, there’s still plenty of hunger in those drivers to close out 2023 strong for an even better 2024.
Carson Macedo was in contention for the championship throughout the first half of the campaign but has slipped out of reach in the second half as he’s 140 points behind Sweet. It’s still been another stout season with Jason Johnson Racing for Macedo as he’s won seven times, set Simpson Quick Time on 14 occasions, and grabbed 19 podiums. The Lemoore, CA native is yet to win at Charlotte, but has been in the top five in four of his last five tries including a runner-up last year.
Sheldon Haudenschild sits seventh in points in his seventh year on the tour. The Wooster, OH native has collected a trio of victories in 2023 and looks to add to that total before the season ends. Charlotte hasn’t been the kindest to him, but he did pick up his second-best finish at the track with a third-place effort to conclude last season.
Spencer Bayston will cap his sophomore season with an eighth-place finish in points. The CJB Motorsports pilot has finished eighth in three of his last four Features in Charlotte and owns a best finish of fourth (2018) at the facility.
FIRST-TIME WINNER?: Since its opening in 2000, The Dirt Track at Charlotte has produced a few notable first-time World of Outlaws winners.
Back in 2003, Blake Feese led all 22 laps of a rain-shortened main event for his one and only Series victory in his 29th Feature start. Three years later, Kevin Swindell went to Victory Lane to become, at the time, the youngest winner in Series history. Fast forward nine years to when Dusty Zomer wheeled the Blazin’ Racin’ machine to his first win at Charlotte.
Three first-time winners – Brady Bacon, Corey Day, and Zeb Wise – have already arose from the 2023 campaign, and Charlotte’s history suggests we could see another before the year is done. Full-time Series drivers – Robbie Price, Noah Gass, and Bill Rose – are still seeking their first win. And World Finals always attracts drivers from all over, plenty of which will be chasing their first victory this week.