From Nick Graziano,
PEVELY, MO (August 8, 2020) – Sheldon Haudenschild has excelled when redemption is an added trophy for the second time in 2020.
The Wooster, OH driver earned his first win of the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series season at Lincoln Speedway, where he didn’t qualify for the event last year. He then claimed his second victory of the season Friday night during the Night Before the Ironman at Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55, where he missed an opportunity to win in May when he flipped while leading.
The victory came in dominating fashion as he’s turned the 1/3-mile track into his personal playground. The raceway was built 16 years before Haudenschild was born, but he drives the track like it was built with him in mind. He runs a masterclass of ripping the top and even when he’s forced off the high groove to pass cars in traffic, he’s still able to find speed.
“I don’t know if there is a secret,” Haudenschild said about his ability to master I-55. “It’s a combo of everything. Having the confidence in this race car and being really comfortable.”
However, while he dominated the night, leading 34 of the 35 laps, he was still forced to work for the win. Throughout the majority of the race, reigning champion Brad Sweet kept Haudenschild in sight and was never shy about letting him know the NAPA Auto Parts #49 was on his tail.
Sweet, who won the Night Before the Ironman last year, dove under Haudenschild in turns three and four on the first lap to claim the top spot and lead the first lap. Haudenschild had the better run off Turn 4, though, from running high, and crossed underneath Sweet down the front stretch to reclaim the lead by the time they reached Turn 1.
Multiple early cautions fizzled their battle but when the race saw consecutive green flag laps, the fans in the stands and those watching on DIRTVision saw a war for the lead with Haudenschild blazing around the high side of the track and Sweet continuously throwing his car underneath Haudenschild every corner. At times, they’d exit Turn 4 side by side, inches apart, able to reach out and touch each other.
About halfway through the race Sweet was able to dive far enough underneath the NOS Energy Drink #17 car to slide in front of him and take the lead on the exit of the turn, but a caution came out before the lap was completed. The lead went back to Haudenschild and ultimately the race.
Despite his valiant efforts to try and claim another I-55 win, Sweet couldn’t keep pace with Haudenschild in the closing stage of the event. Haudenschild sliced through lap traffic with ease in the final 10 laps, while Sweet struggled to do the same. That allowed Haudenschild to pull away and bring his Stenhouse Jr.-Marshall Racing team to Victory Lane for the second time this year and for the second time at I-55.
“She was on the fence and fast,” Haudenschild said about the track. “It wasn’t powder up there. It was tacky and grabby. I definitely got tight on the right rear a few times and pushed. I was waiting to see Brad’s nose after I did that. I feel like we recovered from our mistakes and learned on that (early) restart. So, I couldn’t ask for much more.”
Sweet’s runner-up finish is his second in a row at the track and third podium finish in a row, as well. While he has two World of Outlaws victories at the track, he’ll be on the hunt for his first Ironman title Saturday night.
“Sheldon, he’s just a gasser,” said Sweet, of Grass Valley, CA. “He was up on the fence and you had to be aggressive. He’s a Haudenschild for sure. I was watching him make moves. It was fun to watch… It’s good to be on the podium. That was a tough 35 laps. We’ve got to make our car a touch better. There’s things we can take away from tonight and go after that Ironman 55.”
Rico Abreu raced his way from seventh to third in the 35-lap event, passing Schatz and Schuchart in the closing stage of the race to steal a podium finish. He’s a two-time Ironman title holder and now has the car to try and score his third.
Haudenschild’s win helped him close within 100 points of the championship battle. Sitting fifth, he is now 96 points behind Sweet, who continues to lead. And while Sweet lost points to Haudenschild, he gained on the rest. He is now 24 points ahead of Logan Schuchart – who finished fifth – and 30 points ahead of third-place Donny Schatz – who finished fourth. Carson Macedo, who finished 8th after starting 19th – earning the KSE Hard Charger award – is fourth in points, 82 points behind Sweet.
They’ll all be gunning for the prestigious Ironman title and $20,000 payday Saturday night. For Haudenschild, he said continued consistency of running smooth laps like he did Friday night could help land to back to back Ironman wins.