BRISTOL, Tenn. — In the past two years, Brad Sweet has become sprint car racing’s gold standard as a driver.
In 2019, he halted Donny Schatz’s dominant run at five straight World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series championships. Last year, Sweet joined Steve Kinser, Sammy Swindell, Jason Meyers and Schatz as the only drivers to win multiple titles at sprint racing’s highest level.
He’s only bolstered his premier status this year. Thirteen races into the season, Sweet owns five wins and a 92-point lead over Sheldon Haudenschild in the standings as the series tackles Bristol Motor Speedway on Friday night.
“We have a lot of confidence,” Sweet said. “We feel like there’s not a whole lot to provide at this point. We just worry about our own car and try to go into each night, and try to win. I think that just comes with experience. I think we’re to the point we are the veteran team out here.
“So far, so good,” Sweet added. “We’ve executed every night pretty well.”
Perhaps Sweet’s biggest challenge of the year awaits him this weekend at the dirt-covered Bristol Motor Speedway. He’ll admit he had stage fright prior to Thursday’s practice sessions at the high-banked .526-mile track, the probable speeds stirring some fear in the back-to-back series champion.
“The biggest thing was there were so many unknowns,” Sweet said. “Just how fast are we going to go? How much different were the cars going to handle on a little bit bigger race track, with this much banking?”
Sweet ran eighth, 10th, eighth, 11th and seventh in five practice sessions and his anxiety was put to rest.
“Definitely at the beginning I was a little concerned with the speeds and the way the cars were darty,” Sweet explained. “I was a little uncomfortable. As the track slicked off and slowed down, as we got our cars to handle better, it didn’t feel as extremely fast as earlier.”
“I feel OK,” Sweet added. “I would have liked to be a little better there on the last run. Overall, I got a lot more comfortable as the night went along. Definitely made good progress with myself [and] the race track. As it slowed down, it got a lot more comfortable for the drivers. Just have to get the car to handle a little better [Friday] but we’ll go back and think about it and, hopefully, make the right decisions. Hopefully, we’ll be a little better [Friday].”
Based on this start to the year, Sweet and his No. 49 Kasey Kahne Racing team are bound to make gains before night one on Friday. In 15 total races, Sweet boasts 12 podiums. He also hasn’t finished worse than 11th.
To continue this positive energy, Sweet, like every other competitor at Bristol, needs to put down a good lap in time trials. Considering the speeds and a racing groove that could be narrow, track position will be crucial.
“I think it’s going to be tough in dirty air, but I think if you can get your car handle well — you saw a few guys get it right — they were really fast,” Sweet said. “So we have to get our car a little better to handle a little better.”
Sweet has produced 31 top-five finishes over his last 38 races, an 82 percent clip that’s elevated Sweet above the rest. Sweet rarely leaves races empty-handed and because of that he is the standard everyone finds themselves chasing.
“I definitely feel more relaxed,” Sweet said. “If I don’t win, it’s not like they can say, ‘Oh, he couldn’t do it.’ … To be a two-time champion, obviously, kind of solidifies yourself in a different category. We don’t want to lose now. Once you’re on top of the mountain, you want to stay on top of the mountain.”