PEVELY, Mo. – Defending World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series champion Brad Sweet was not going to be denied Friday night at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55.
He wasn’t going to let polesitter Jacob Allen celebrate in victory lane for the first time, nor was he going to let his brother-in-law – Kyle Larson – steal the top honors from him with a late pass at the third-mile.
That tenacity and drive ended up putting Sweet in victory lane for the second time in five races this season with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series, his 52nd Outlaw win overall, during the opening night of the Drydene Double Down Invitational.
But to say it didn’t come easy would be a massive understatement.
Sweet started third for the 30-lapper after getting blitzed in the DIRTvision Fast Pass Dash by Jacob Allen, who led all the way in that event and rolled off from the top spot for the main event as a result.
And for a while, at least, it looked as though this would be the night that Allen’s 0-for-324 streak in the World of Outlaws history books would finally come to an end. He dominated the opening stint despite the best efforts of Sweet and Shane Stewart to bear down on the Shark Racing No. 1a in traffic.
However, Allen met his match in the form of a lap-nine caution for the stopped car of Terry McCarl in turn one, which set up a double-file restart and squelched a three-way duel for the lead between Allen, Sweet and Stewart.
Sweet, who took over the runner-up spot the lap before the yellow waved, came out guns blazing on the restart with a quick slider of Allen in turn three to take command of the night on the 10th revolution.
But while Sweet placed himself firmly out front, it was still a war behind him to determine who would get to second and be the man to try and chase down the NAPA Auto Parts-backed No. 49.
Larson eventually made himself that challenger, getting to second on lap 12 and having a shot to restart alongside Sweet when a flipping Scotty Thiel turned the red lights on six circuits later.
With a dozen laps left, Larson was stacked to Sweet’s outside for the restart, but Sweet got a good jump on the bottom of the track and opened up six tenths of a second in one lap before Larson got his footing underneath him, so to speak.
From there, it was a tooth-and-nail fight to the finish as Larson closed in on Sweet. Like a shark moving in for the kill, Larson seized the moment coming to five to go and dove underneath Sweet in turn three, sliding across Sweet’s front bumper off the exit of the fourth corner to lead lap 25 at the flagstand.
Sweet wasn’t done, however. He powered back past Larson in the next set of corners to put the battle to bed, taking the lead for good on lap 26 and turning back every challenge Larson had left from there.
In the end, the two California aces crossed the finish line separated by a scant .189 of a second, with Sweet collecting the $6,000 winner’s share and re-tying David Gravel for 15th on the all-time win list.
Sweet chuckled in victory lane when asked about the fight with Larson in the closing laps, pointing to the skill that the former NASCAR Cup Series driver and dirt-track savant showcases night in and night out.
“That was a lot of fun. Kyle is an unbelievable talent,” Sweet said in victory lane. “He may be my brother-in-law, but he makes me earn these wins, damn it! I so enjoyed that, but I knew he was going to be up on the wheel. I just gave it all we had, and luckily we were able to overcome what he threw at us.
“There were some different lines developing on the track, but with him behind me, I really thought that the top was going to be the better spot to be in,” Sweet added. “He found the middle and bottom down there (in turns three and four), and I got stuck behind lapped traffic for a second. I just needed to do a little bit better job on my end, but this Kasey Kahne Racing crew gave me a great car and that made up for it and got us to victory lane in the end.”
Friday night’s race was conducted in front of a limited-capacity, socially-distanced crowd of fans, but they made their appreciation known with raucous applause after the checkered flag waved.
Sweet made sure their support didn’t go unnoticed.
“It was a lot of fun to see fans back in the stands!” he said, a big grin spreading across his features. “I tell you what, it’s not a lot of fun to race and celebrate in front of an empty grandstand, so we appreciate everyone that came out … and hopefully the crowds can keep getting bigger and bigger.”
And at the same track where the annual Ironman 55 is held in August, a physical race tested both man and machine, with Sweet able to come out on top and laugh about it afterward.
“I actually feel better after this feature than I did after the heat (race),” Sweet noted with a chuckle.
Behind Sweet and Larson, Logan Schuchart completed the podium and retained the World of Outlaws point lead by four markers – unofficially – over Sweet with five races completed on the year.
Stewart hung on for a fourth-place finish, with Allen fading late to complete the top five.
Sheldon Haudenschild was the night’s KSE Hard Charger, winning the Last Chance Showdown before advancing from 21st on the grid up to an eighth-place finish.
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