Winning a World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car championship requires facing adversity. No matter how strong a driver and team are, challenges promise to present themselves throughout the grind of the tour. And that’s exactly what David Gravel encountered Sunday night at Weedsport Speedway.
Small mistakes that could’ve derailed his night arose during the Empire State Challenge but Gravel didn’t waver. First, a Heat Race issue that led to mechanical problems didn’t stop Gravel from transferring to the Dash. Then in the Feature, contact with the wall upset the handling of his Big Game Motorsports #2, but he didn’t let that stop him from rolling to a commanding victory and $20,000.
Gravel took the top spot on lap four from early leader Danny Varin, sliced his way through traffic, and survived multiple restarts on his journey to Victory Lane.
“Danny Varin was good there early, and that caution came out and kind of saved me a little bit,” Gravel said. “I had to get the wing back some then I was searching and went to the top of (Turns) 1 and 2 and smoked the wall and knocked the ladder off of it. That didn’t help the handling too much, made the car a little worse. I felt like as long as I was running the line I was doing in (Turns) 1 and 2 I didn’t think he’d be able to pass me or get a big run. Then you just run into (Turn) 3 as hard as you can and try to backpedal. The cushion got really far around there, and I started shortening the exit. I think that worked out pretty good.
“Cody (Jacobs), Scott (Vogelsong), and Zach (Patterson) worked really hard tonight,” Gravel said. “I cleaned the front end off the thing in the Heat Race and knocked the radiator out of it, so they worked hard all night and fixed a lot of broken parts and I broke some more there. That’s probably the most stuff I’ve torn up in a night, but we won so the 20 grand will make up for it.”
The win marked many notable milestones for Gravel. First, his 86th career World of Outlaws win broke a tie with Brad Sweet on the all-time win list and moved him into a tie with Daryn Pittman for ninth. It was his 10th of the year, marking the fourth time he’s reached double digit victories during a single season. He’s also now at three Weedsport wins, which equals him with Steve Kinser and Donny Schatz for the most at the “Empire State” oval.
The path to victory for Gravel began from inside row two where he lined up after finishing third in the Toyota Racing Dash. When the green flag dropped, Gravel had already nosed ahead of second-starting Brad Sweet for the runner-up spot by the time they exited Turn 2.
On the next lap, Gravel rolled the bottom to pull alongside Danny Varin as they completed the second circuit. The duo battled wheel to wheel for the entire next lap and were again side by side as they completed lap three. But when they roared down the back straightaway, Gravel was able to pull ahead and secure the lead on the fourth lap.
From there, Gravel took no prisoners as he immediately began to extend his advantage. The Watertown, CT native powered ahead as a battle erupted for second. Varin quickly had Carson Macedo, Sheldon Haudenschild, and Donny Schatz all breathing down his neck. After several laps of trading spots, Macedo emerged with second and Haudenschild came along with him into third.
A wild restart on Lap 19 saw several frontrunners have their race threatened as Schatz made contact with Haudenschild, sending Schatz spinning up the track and collecting Gio Scelzi, Brock Zearfoss, and James McFadden. Only Schatz and McFadden required trips to the Federated Car Care Work Zone. Schatz was able to rejoin the field.
Another moment late in the race impacted a top competitor as Haudenschild made contact with the wall and slowed with oil leaking from his machine and ending his night.
These incidents helped pave the path for Gravel as he continued to ace every restart and work his way through traffic, determined to make up for the early error and contact with the wall. Gravel held off Macedo and a hard charging Dave Blaney to claim the win and up his points lead to eight markers over Brad Sweet.
“Obviously Brad started on the front row, and he’s going to be hard to beat, but he obviously missed it tonight,” Gravel said. “You don’t want to see Sheldon drop out of the race or Donny. Those guys seem to be pretty good too. But it is what it is. All we can do is control what we can control and try to win races and run up front, and that’s what we’ve been doing… It feels good. It’s been a fun year. We’ve been hitting our stride for most of the season, and let’s keep it rolling.”
Carson Macedo held on for second aboard the Jason Johnson Racing #41. The Lemoore, CA native moved up to 14 podiums for the 2023 World of Outlaws season as he stays within striking distance of Gravel and Sweet in the title chase. Macedo felt that clean air was vital and that he might’ve been able to get the win had he had the opportunity to get up front.
“I think being out in front there in that scenario with the line we’re running, I think that clean air is much better,” Macedo noted. “It seems like you can get across the center and get going good again. I kind of had to try to enter off his right rear (tire), and I felt like I was in his wash and I’d get to spinning real bad. It would get me to the fence sooner, but I felt like catching the grip and trying to get through it was better. The couple times that I tried to enter like he was real low and get across I just didn’t feel very good. My car was phenomenal in the Feature. I think we started sixth. Philip Dietz, Clyde Knipp, Nate Repetz, they hit it on the head tonight.”
Rounding out the top three was the feel-good story of the night in the form of Dave Blaney. Making his 2023 World of Outlaws season debut, “The Buckeye Bullet” charged from 12th to third for his 335th career Series podium and first since his win at Sharon Speedway in 2021.
“It was good,” Blaney said of his night. “This is kind of our kind of track – slick and slow, and our car is pretty good at that. I didn’t expect to get that far from 12th, but the car was good. No issues. Fun race. It’s just so fun to race with the whole crowd here. When you can race with them the whole race, that’s fun.”
Dale Blaney advanced from 20th to ninth to collect the KSE Racing Hard Charger Award.
Simpson Performance Products QuickTime honors went to Carson Macedo for the 13th time in 2023 and the 32nd time of his career.
CASE No.1 Engine Oil Heat One was picked up by Sheldon Haudenschild (93rd Heat Race win of career). NOS Energy Drink Heats Two through Four went to Brad Sweet (228th of career), Donny Schatz (518th of career), and Gio Scelzi (32nd of career).
Spencer Bayston topped the Micro-Lite Last Chance Showdown.
The Smith Titanium Brake Systems “Break of the Race” went to Danny Varin. After leading early, an issue on Lap 18 slowed him and wound up in a 23rd place finish.
If you can’t make it to the track, catch all of the action on DIRTVision.
NOS Energy Drink Feature (35 Laps): 1. 2-David Gravel; 2. 41-Carson Macedo; 3. 10-Dave Blaney; 4. 49-Brad Sweet; 5. 18-Giovanni Scelzi; 6. 1S-Logan Schuchart; 7. 10C-Larry Wight; 8. 3Z-Brock Zearfoss; 9. 32B-Dale Blaney; 10. 15-Donny Schatz; 11. 20G-Noah Gass; 12. 1A-Jacob Allen; 13. 98-Joe Trenca; 14. 23-Max McLaughlin; 15. 5-Spencer Bayston; 16. 7NY-Matt Farnham; 17. 7S-Robbie Price; 18. 53-Shawn Donath; 19. (DNF) 17-Sheldon Haudenschild; 20. (DNF) 1M-Landon Myers; 21. (DNF) 11-Cory Turner; 22. (DNF) 83-James McFadden; 23. (DNF) 01-Danny Varin; 24. (DNF) 88C-Chad Miller