Brad Sweet and the NAPA Auto Parts No. 49 team kicked off a 93-race campaign last week with five consecutive days of racing at Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Fl. The DIRTcar Nationals hosted two nights of All Star Circuit of Champions racing before the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series officially began, with three additional nights of Outlaws racing to follow. Sweet, the four-time and reigning Outlaws champion, won the All Star feature Tuesday in pursuit of the DIRTcar Nationals’ “gator” trophy and embarked on his championship defense once the Outlaws season was underway.
On Tuesday, the NAPA No. 49 was slated to start fourth in Heat Race 3, and the Big Cat made moves to cross the checkers in second, punching his ticket to the Dash. In the Dash redraw, Sweet drew the third starting spot.
“It’s always a new challenge down here, a lot of competition every year,” Sweet said during the redraw. “I just want to get the NAPA Auto Parts car handling good and have a good, solid first night and have a solid week, so you can set your year up with some good momentum.”
With only a six-lap distance to advance through the Dash field, Sweet was able to pick off one position to finish second, placing him on the front row to start the A-main. Sweet was confident in the setup that Crew Chief Eric Prutzman had provided, and when he rolled off for the 25-lap feature, the Big Cat had his sights set on the golden gator. Off the start, Sweet was shuffled back to third, but it didn’t take the NAPA Auto Parts No. 49 long to come to life. Sweet took off like a rocket. For the sixth time in his career, he picked up the Allstar win, crossing the line with a 2.5-second advantage.
Heading into Wednesday night’s program with heavy momentum for the prior night’s win, Sweet looked to continue his success. The No. 49 went out fourth for qualifying among 34 cars in attendance. Sweet clicked off a lap time of 13.749 seconds, slating him to start fifth in Heat Race 1. With a fast, one-lane track, the heat field quickly began to spread out. Sweet finished fifth, putting him toward the back to start the feature. With 25 laps to make his way through the field, the NAPA driver knew he had his work cut out for him. The Big Cat used all 900 horsepower the No. 49 could offer to make a charge. His setup was perfect, and Sweet was red hot; he advanced a total of 11 positions to finish in sixth.
Thursday brought the first official race of the 2023 World of Outlaws season. As Sweet kicked off his “Drive for Five” campaign to defend his title, he also looked to collect his 80th World of Outlaws win and his 10th gator trophy. Volusia had 36 cars in attendance with Sweet heading out 29th for qualifying. A lap time of 14.021 seconds placed him 24th overall and sixth to start Heat Race 4. Sweet attempted to make charges forward in his heat race but had enough dirty air to prevent him from gaining more than one spot. It was enough to allow the NAPA driver to transfer to the feature starting in 20th, but the same issue plagued him in the main event. In the back of the pack with dirty air, Sweet could gain only one position to finish 19th.
Friday night offered the NAPA No. 49 team a chance to hit the reset button. Qualifying 10th of 35 cars in attendance, Sweet clocked a 13.811-second lap for a third-position starting spot in Heat Race 2. Due to earlier rain, the track surface was still a bit greasy when his heat race went green. Competitor Gio Scelzi battled Sweet for third and, with the preferred line, took the position. The No. 49 crossed the checkers in fourth, placing Sweet 14th to start the A-main. When the green flag waved on the 25-lap feature, Sweet charged forward, gaining eight positions. The NAPA driver finished in the sixth spot as fog began to settle on Volusia Speedway Park.
Saturday was scheduled to mark the conclusion of the DIRTcar Nationals. As stormy weather quickly approached the speedway, the program moved swiftly to beat the rain storm. With 36 competitors in attendance, Sweet was slated to go out 25th for qualifying. He hit the charts at 13.845 seconds, placing him second overall and on the pole for Heat Race 2. The Big Cat needed to hold his line to make the Fast Pass Dash. On the drop of the green, the outside line had the advantage, causing Sweet to fall back to second. After stalking the leader throughout the heat race, Sweet finished in second, scoring himself a spot in the Dash. Sweet drew the sixth starting position for the Dash, but a large rain cell soon reached Volusia Speedway Park, canceling the remainder of the event for the night.
Sweet and the NAPA Auto Parts team have a few weeks off before returning to Volusia on March 5th and 6th, when they will complete Saturday night’s weather-postponed World of Outlaws Dash and A-main along with the scheduled Spring Showdown at Volusia.
Start / Finish:
Tuesday, Feb. 7: 2 / 1
Wednesday, Feb. 8: 17 / 6
Thursday, Feb. 9: 20 / 19
Friday, Feb. 10: 14 / 6
Saturday, Feb. 11: postponed
Points Standing / Total: 10th / 250 pts. (-50)
Next Race: Sunday, March 5, Volusia Speedway Park, Barberville, FL
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.