Brad Sweet had been banging on the door of his first World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car win of 2023 entering Saturday night at Magnolia Motor Speedway, and the door finally collapsed.
Heading into the evening, the four-time and defending champion had posted three runner-ups in his last four races, but victory had eluded him. He and the Kasey Kahne Racing team continued to field fast car after fast car, a win just outside their grasp, and finally persistence paid off. “The Big Cat” would not be denied on Saturday at the second Series visit to the Columbus, MS oval, snatching the lead on lap 10 and holding off a few late challenges to claim the checkered flag.
The victory marked a major milestone for the pilot of the Napa Auto Parts #49 as he became only the 11th driver in Series history to reach 80 wins. Sweet also was the fourth fastest to hit the mark, trailing only the legendary trio of Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell, and Doug Wolfgang.
“Anytime you get your name mentioned with those guys, the legends of the sport, that’s pretty cool,” Sweet said. “80 wins, it’s just not possible without my guys at KKR. They’ve given me a great opportunity over these last 10 years. Ever since I teamed up with Eric (Prutzman), Andrew (Bowman), and now we got Tye Wolfgang and we’re clicking well.”
Sweet led the field to green after topping the Toyota Racing Dash, but it was second-starting Sheldon Haudenschild ripping the top to lead the opening lap. It was evident early on that Sweet would be a factor as he didn’t allow Haudenschild to pull ahead as they worked through to opening portion of the race.
As the leaders entered traffic, Sweet found his opening and threw a slider at Haudenschild to take the top spot. Haudenschild was unable to turn underneath the Napa Racing #49 to regain the lead, and Sweet wasted no time setting sail.
Traffic remained a factor and allowed Haudenschild to narrow the gap at one point, but Sweet worked through slower cars well enough to keep the NOS Energy Drink #17 behind him.
“This track is extreme one way or the other,” Sweet said of the conditions during the Feature. “The grip is extreme and the slick is extreme ice. You’ve got to be really careful on the throttle.”
Sweet’s biggest challenger arose in the form of the current point leader, David Gravel. Coming to 11 laps to go, Gravel, who started 10th, wheeled the Big Game Motorsports #2 into the runner-up spot and quickly closed on Sweet. As the two navigated traffic, Gravel appeared poised to take a swing at the lead but couldn’t find the right opening. Late cautions giving Sweet clean air made it even more of a task for Gravel.
“I got a little conservative there. If I could retry, I’d definitely try the bottom there,” Gravel admitted. “I just didn’t want to throw it away. I felt like it was probably pretty easy to crash there if you tried too hard and made a mistake. I did get tight on the cushion in the last corner. Brad did a great job. I think in lapped traffic we had the better car, We probably had the car to win, but clean air and everything worked out for him.”
Sweet ultimately cruised to his 80th win with a seventh tenths of a second advantage over Gravel. Sweet has now won at 45 different tracks in World of Outlaws competition.
“I just tried to hustle,” Sweet said. “I just wanted to win for my guys. They deserve it. We want to get some momentum going early in the year, and the car is handling good.”
Gravel held on for second, notching his Series-leading fifth podium of the season and the 198th of his World of Outlaws career. The effort also earned him the night’s KSE Racing Hard Charger honors. Though he felt he had a car to win, Gravel still came away satisfied with the effort, especially after starting the main event 10th.
“Like I said, I think we had the car to beat tonight,” Gravel said. “We passed a lot of fast racecars on a really aggressive track. That was a workout. That was a lot of fun, and hopefully we’re up here (on the podium) a lot more.”
Completing the top-three was Sheldon Haudenschild. The third-place effort marked his first podium of the season aboard the Stenhouse Jr./Marshall Racing #17. Leading laps and a season best performance served as a much-welcomed confidence boost for Haudenschild as he looks to build early season momentum.
“This is definitely where this car belongs. My guys work too hard for this thing not to be up front,” Haudenschild said. “We’ve been working hard. This first little part of the season we haven’t got a bunch of races in, and we’ve struggled a little bit, so to get this NOS Energy Drink car up here is just a huge confidence boost. I feel like this is where we belong.”
UP NEXT: The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars head to Devil’s Bowl Speedway (Mesquite, TX) for the Federated Auto Parts Texas Outlaw Nationals (March 31- April 1). For tickets, CLICK HERE.
If you can’t make it to the track, watch all the action live on DIRTVision.
A Feature (35 Laps): 1. 49-Brad Sweet; 2. 2-David Gravel; 3. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild; 4. 15-Donny Schatz; 5. 41-Carson Macedo; 6. 24-Rico Abreu; 7. 1A-Jacob Allen; 8. 18-Giovanni Scelzi; 9. 8-Aaron Reutzel; 10. 1S-Logan Schuchart; 11. 9-Kasey Kahne; 12. 55-Hunter Schuerenberg; 13. 5-Spencer Bayston; 14. 3Z-Brock Zearfoss; 15. 11-Michael Kofoid; 16. 17B-Bill Balog; 17. 20G-Noah Gass; 18. 88-Austin McCarl; 19. 7S-Robbie Price; 20. 84-Brandon Hanks; 21. 83-James McFadden; 22. 47-Eric Riggins Jr; 23. 44-Carson Short; 24. 9P-Parker Price Miller