T.J.’s Takeaways: Finish for the Ages

Brad Sweet (#49) and Jacob Allen (#1A). (JIm Denhamer photo)

By T.J. Buffenbarger

(November 9, 2019) — After a thrilling title race for the World of Outlaws came down to the final night of racing at the Dirt Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway I have a handful of takeaways to wrap up the 2019 campaign.

• Most of the time the World of Outlaws point championship is an afterthought going into the final race of the season. Having Brad Sweet and Donny Schatz separated by two points going into the finale created a buzz that I’ve never felt going into the final night of the season. There have been a handful of close point battles going into the last night of the season, but nothing like Saturday’s showdown where one position could literally make the difference of who won the title.

Saturday’s drama was real, not manufactured by the format of the championship. Other than a handful of special events with different format’s Saturday’s event in Charlotte paid the same amount of points as all the other races this season.

I can’t think of a World of Outlaws season that ended on a better note than this one. Hopefully the series can use this momentum into the off season to build more excitement leading into the 2020 opener in Florida.

• After seeing his point lead shrink leading into Saturday’s finale Sweet seemed to have the speedy and aggressiveness seen a majority of the 2019 season that put him in position to win the championship. Sweet ran a very strong race, not letting Schatz passing him midway through the race get him rattled and managed to pass Schatz back and avoiding mass amounts of chaos during that feature event including a spin by Danny Dietrich right in front of him that brought out the final caution flag.

Being able to finish off this championship is huge Sweet and Kasey Kahne Racing. One could argue Sweet has been a “company guy” over at KKR driving in their USAC program and everything in between other than a short stint in NASCAR. To have someone win a championship that did a lot of developing of his skills in house is something KKR should be extremely proud of.

Sweet’s backstory is one every professional racing series would love to have. From being another kid that came out from California with and old pickup truck, trailer, and race car sleeping on people’s couches just hoping to get a shot at being a professional racer to winning the point championship for the biggest sprint car series in the world is a public relations dream.

• If David Gravel decides to take a path other than professional sprint car racing, which has been rumored may happen for a couple of years, it will be our sport’s loss. At the same time I wouldn’t begrudge him a bit for taking such an opportunity. Even in my own professional career outside of racing as younger talent sometimes has developed skills that have allowed them to move on and improve their career, I would never begrudge them that opportunity. I celebrate and feel happy for them. I would feel the same for Gravel if he was able to get a better opportunity outside of sprint car racing, but part of me would love to see what Gravel could accomplish in a decade or so of World of Outlaws touring.

• Just because he lost the 2019 title by a handful of points don’t discount Donny Schatz going into the 2020 season. Schatz had an extremely strong end to the 2019 season making a point race much closer than we felt it would be late in the summer. Unless the Ford engine program propagates to other race teams, they will have a piece of equipment that will be unique to them and has already shown a lot of promise this year.

• Special moments in any weekly racing program or series are the coming together of the right people at the right time. The World of Outlaws seem to be entering one of those stretches. The on-track product is much better than when I started covering the series in the mid to late 90’s that were considered “the salad days” of growth. I don’t think I’ve ever anticipated the start of a World of Outlaws season, and winged sprint car season in general, more than I am for 2020. When you cover the sport day in and out its sometimes difficult to maintain that enthusiasm, but for me it’s alive and well as 2019 winds down and 2020 approaches.