From Anthony Corini
CONCORD, N.C. (November 5, 2017) — The 2017 World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series season saw Donny Schatz claim his ninth Series title. Schatz, who turned 40 in August, has now won five of the last six Championships and will chase his tenth title in 2018, but not without heavy resistance from David Gravel, Brad Sweet and the rest of the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series regulars.
Gravel, 25, capped off a career season with a thrilling victory in the Season Finale at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. The win doubled his and CJB Motorsports’ win total from last season and left them even hungrier heading into the offseason. “It’s been a lot of fun. I’m glad I was able to give Barry Jackson a career year. He deserves it; he is the heart and soul of this team. We are very excited for next year,” Gravel said.
Despite Gravel scoring 12 more wins than Brad Sweet, the latter took the runner-up position in the point standings. If Gravel wants to challenge Schatz for a Series Title next season, he will need to find more consistency on a nightly basis.
Then again, Sweet’s always the bridesmaid, never the bride model was unprecedented. In comparison to his five wins, the Grass Valley, California native scored 14 runner-up finishes and 18 additional third-place finishes this year. While that is nothing to hang your head over, being so close to victory that many times has to leave a bittersweet feeling heading into the 2018 campaign. “It’s always easy to look at the negatives, but we had a ton of positives this year. It took a lot of teamwork to stand up here. It’s not easy to be second in points. We’ll keep trying and will be better next year,” Sweet said at the Banquet.
As for Schatz, what else can be said. 2017 saw the Fargo, North Dakota native score his tenth career 5-Hour ENERGY Knoxville Nationals title as well as becoming the first driver to score back-to-back Kings Royal victories. Those two wins alone garnered Schatz $200,000 in winnings. “It’s been a hell of a ride. See you all next year,” Schatz said amidst a handful of jokes and stories at the Banquet.
While Schatz is without a doubt the man to beat, it wasn’t always that way. At age 25 (Gravel’s age now), Schatz scored just two wins in World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series competition and finished seventh in the point standings. It wasn’t until 2006, at age 29, when Schatz scored his first career Championship Title.
While Gravel is not quite at the Donny Schatz measuring stick right now, Schatz himself was not at the Donny Schatz level at Gravel’s age and experience level.
Having said that, all the pieces are in place for the Watertown, Connecticut native to challenge Schatz. Gravel and CJB Motorsports are bringing back the entire crew next year and will be poised to prevent Schatz from scoring his tenth Championship.
Sheldon Haudenschild was awarded the Kevin Gobrecht Rookie of the Year as both he and fellow rookie contender Brent Marks vastly improved throughout the season. Haudenschild leaned on the experience of veteran crew chief Bonzai Bruns and his father Jac for guidance on new tracks. Meanwhile, Marks had only one full-time crew guy all year, and neither of them had seen any tracks west of Knoxville. Expect both young guns to be ready to go in 2018.
Looking ahead to next season, the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series appears to be stronger than ever in what will be the Series’ 40th Anniversary of existence. With all the big names returning and a cast of new drivers expected, here are a few things to look for in 2018.
Count on it:
• A pair of multiple-time World of Outlaws winners will join the tour full-time.
o o Stay tuned to our social media channels for official announcements.
• Shane Stewart and Larson Marks Racing will score double-digit wins.
o o Since the arrival of Crew Chief Lee Stauffer, the LMR No. 2 has been lethal, scoring six wins since Stauffer was hired in late June. Look for Stewart and company to be red hot right out of the box in 2018.
• Sheldon Haudenschild will score his first career World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series win
o o The young Wooster, Ohio native was painfully close on several occasions in 2017. Another year of experience under his belt will only help the young throttle stomper.
• Daryn Pittman will have a bounce back season.
o o Three wins and 28 top-fives may not sound like an “off” season for many, but for the 2013 World of Outlaws Champion, it was. It took Pittman until August to score his first win of the season. That will not happen in 2018.
Don’t be shocked if:
o Brent Marks scores his first career World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series win.
Marks and his one-man crew team caught fire at the end of the season and surged up the point standings to a top-ten finish.
o Logan Schuchart doubles his season-best win total (again)
In 2016, Schuchart scored his first World of Outlaws win and added another later in the campaign. In 2017, Schuchart doubled his season-best with four wins. The once ‘little team that could,’ Shark Racing has now become a force on the World of Outlaws tour, at times showing flashes of dominance. Schuchart will be a force in 2018 and for years to come.
o Kraig Kinser and Jason Sides score multiple wins
The pair of veterans showed flashes of brilliance, but only scored one win between the two of them (Kinser on 7/6). Frequent visitors to the top-ten, look for Kinser and Sides to land in victory lane more often in 2018.
Believe it or not:
• There will be a new World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series Champion in 2018.
o Until proven otherwise, Schatz is the man to beat. But the likes of Sweet, Gravel and Stewart are chomping at the bit to secure their first championship. The 2018 season will see Gravel and Stewart, specifically, return their entire operation, coming off of career-best seasons. At the very least, Schatz will be challenged significantly in his quest for his tenth Championship.