Heading into the weekend with a recent record of consistent success, Brad Sweet and the NAPA Auto Parts No. 49 team were focused on closing the points gap in the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series. The four-time series champion had two events in America’s heartland to complete the task: US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo., on Friday and 81 Speedway in Wichita, Kan., on Saturday. While Friday’s race result moved Sweet into the top spot, the NAPA team found themselves two steps back by Sunday.
Sweet and the NAPA team arrived at the high banks of US 36 Raceway to find 31 cars signed into competition. Slated to run 26th in the qualifying order, Sweet hit the charts at 10.807 seconds, placing him eighth overall and third to start Heat Race 2. The track conditions Friday were slick due to high moisture in the racing surface. Sweet tried to cut down and take the second spot in his hear race, but the NAPA driver just didn’t have enough to get there. Sweet held third and began to close on second-place runner Logan Schuchart, making a move in the final lap before being bested at the line by half a car length.
The third-place heat finish automatically transferred the NAPA No. 49 team to the A-main, where Sweet was slated to start the 30-lap race from the eighth spot. The team knew conserving tires would be key on the abrasive track surface. When the green flag dropped on the feature, Sweet used his experience on California bullrings to rip the top, climbing up to the fourth position by lap 11. Switching his line to the bottom, Sweet caught third-place runner David Gravel. After a late-race caution, Sweet had a slingshot of a start, allowing him to juggle positions with the first- and second-place competitors. Sweet ultimately finished third.
“It was really fun driving the NAPA Auto Parts car,” Sweet said of the podium finish. “The car is handling good, and I felt like we could kind of come from anywhere in the pack.”
Leaving US 36 Raceway, Sweet and the NAPA team overtook the World of Outlaws championship points lead with a four-point margin.
Saturday night brought an event near and dear to the hearts of the World of Outlaws Series organizers, competitors and fans: the Jason Johnson Classic. The Oulaws community lost Johnson to a crash five years ago; the event is a way to honor him and his legacy.
With 32 cars registered for competition at 81 Speedway, Sweet was the fourth driver to qualify. The NAPA driver clicked off a lap of 13.464 seconds, placing him 11th and scheduling the NAPA No. 49 to start third in Heat Race 3.
When the caution lights went out and the green flag dropped on his heat race, Sweet dove to the bottom and claimed third. He quickly gained ground on second-place runner Brock Zearfoss but struggled to find the speed to pass. Holding his position, Sweet crossed the checkers in third, automatically transferring him to the A-main.
After extensive track work, Sweet lined up 11th to start the feature event. Despite an excellent start following the green flag, the caution flew early, resulting in a double-file restart. The NAPA No. 49 and another car collided in the ensuing restart, slicing Sweet’s right rear tire. He took the NAPA machine to the work area where Andrew Bowman, No. 49 team tire specialist, was able to make repairs. Sweet rejoined the field. Attempting to navigate and fight through traffic, Sweet climbed back to the 14th spot before the checkered flag waved. The result moved him to third in points.
Next up for Sweet and the NAPA team is Lakeside Speedway in Kansas City, Kan., for the first High Limit Sprint Car Series race of the season. The newly formed series is the creation of Sweet and brother-in-law Kyle Larson. The inaugural event, Shane Stewart’s Heartland of America Showdown presented by Team Trackhouse on Tuesday, April 11, offers a $50,000-to-win purse.
Start / Finish:
Friday, April 7, US 36 Raceway: 8 / 3
Saturday, April 8, 81 Speedway: 11 / 14
Points Standing / Total: 3rd / 1,664 pts. (-20)
Next Race (World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series): Friday, April 14, I-55 Raceway, Pevely, Mo.
How to Watch or Listen: www.dirtvision.com
Kasey Kahne Racing (KKR), located in Mooresville, NC, was formed in 2005 and employs more than ten people dedicated to sprint car racing. The organization fields two entries in the World of Outlaw Sprint Car Series; Brad Sweet (NAPA No.49) and former NASCAR Cup Series driver Kasey Kahne (No.9). Collectively, KKR has 5 World of Outlaws Championships (Daryn Pittman in '13 and Brad Sweet in '19,'20,'21 &'22). Since the team's inception, KKR has amassed over 211 World of Outlaws wins.