Brad Sweet in victory lane Saturday night at Sharon Speedway. (Trent Gower photo)

Sweet Holds Off Gravel For Sharon Score

HARTFORD, Ohio — The boxscore from Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts Showdown at Sharon Speedway will simply show Brad Sweet led flag to flag.

But the 30 laps were far from an easy cruise for “The Big Cat.”

The four-time and defending World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series champion took everything Giovanni Scelzi and David Gravel could throw at him.

Early in the main event, Scelzi searched every bit of racetrack real estate for speed. He found momentum multiple times, but Sweet fended off each challenge.

Then in the second half of the race it was Sweet’s championship rival – Gravel – surging into second and looking to steal the win. Gravel showed Sweet a nose multiple times, but the Grass Valley, Calif., native kept the door closed. Ultimately, Sweet dodged every punch the two had as he went on to grab his ninth win of the year.

“I just didn’t know where to be sometimes. Lapped traffic was tough,” Sweet explained. “I was probably a little too free. I started off a little too good and got free pretty quick and was trying to use the wall on the (corner) exits to get me down the straightaways. I just was struggling a little bit, but we got into victory lane. That’s half the battle.”

Sweet’s ninth victory of the year moved him up to 88 for his career.

When the green flag dropped on the 30-lap feature, Sweet led the way after topping the Toyota Racing Dash. The Napa Auto Parts No. 49 pulled ahead on the opening lap while Scelzi rocketed from fourth to second out of turn two and down the back straightaway.

Early on in clean air, Sweet put a solid gap between himself and Scelzi, but the Fresno, Calif., driver wouldn’t allow Sweet to escape.

Scelzi kept him well within his sights as they began to near traffic. While Sweet preferred the cushion all the way around Sharon as the race worked through its first third, Scelzi found speed rolling the bottom in turns three and four. The gap between the two began to vanish, and Scelzi began to show Sweet a nose repeatedly as they neared the halfway point.

After the cross flags were displayed, Scelzi ramped up the intensity in his pursuit of the lead. On lap 19, Scelzi tried a slide job on Sweet in turns one and two but came up slightly short as Sweet slipped back by on the outside. Two laps later, Scelzi hit the bottom perfectly in the same set of corners to nose ahead of Sweet as they hit the back straightaway. Sweet refused to go down, though, as he used the high side momentum to inch back in front heading into turn three and protect the lead causing Scelzi to slip back.

With Scelzi losing ground to Sweet, he fell right into the clutches of a fast-closing Gravel who snuck by on the bottom on lap 23 to take over runner-up. Up ahead, Sweet began to question where he needed to be as he struggled to move by a lapped car.

“I probably stayed up top a little too long, but I didn’t want to leave that lane open,” Sweet said. “With the lapped car there, I was just always kind of right off his right rear (tire)… Based off experiences kind of knowing how hard I was having to work to pass him on the top and what pace he was running. Once I got down to his pace, I knew someone would’ve had to really run the wall exceptionally well.”

Before Sweet wound up deciding to move to the bottom, Gravel gathered enough steam for one bid at the lead. On the 25th lap, Gravel used a strong run on the inside of turns one and two to pull alongside Sweet and looked as if he may snatch the top spot. But heading into the next turn, Sweet slammed the door shut to maintain the lead as Gravel slipped back.

The move sealed the deal for Sweet who went on to cross the finish line with a half second advantage.

“I’m excited to get the win,” Sweet said. “It was a tough battle for sure. I saw Gio multiple times, I think, off of (turn two), or it could’ve been David. I just saw orange. It was a great race. The bottom got cleaned off. Once I found it, I knew if I was just patient and didn’t overdrive the car it would be really hard for someone to get by me.”

Gravel settled for second to net his 29th World of Outlaws podium of the season.

“It was a good weekend,” Gravel said. “I just wish I could take that start back. I thought Brad was going to go to the top and he went to the middle and kind of confused me and Gio got by me. I thought Gio was really good early, and it looked like Brad was searching and didn’t know where to go as well. I thought the bottom was kind of the best place to be, but we were just a little too free down there. Then it started cleaning up, and our car really came to life when that bottom came in and the grip picked up and made our car sit right. We were alongside Brad there, and I guess I just wish I ran in harder than him and banged wheels and pushed him out of the way if I could do it over again. Obviously, we’ve got to beat him every night here moving forward. Obviously, if he wins, the best we can do is run second.”

After his early challenges for the lead, Scelzi completed the podium aboard the KCP Racing No. 18.

“It was really good all night. I’m really proud of my guys. I can’t say enough about them,” a grateful Scelzi said. “I’m going to replay that one a lot in my head tonight and the next couple days. Brad and David are really good. They’re the two top guys out here, and they’re the most consistent guys to race against. You learn every time you race against them what moves to make. I just kind of panicked there. I didn’t realize it was cleaning off that much around the bottom. I saw Gravel try the top in (turns) three and four, and that was my chance to get him. Brad was playing the right game just staying the bottom.”

Tanner Holmes and Carson Macedo rounded out the top five.

The finish:

Feature (30 Laps): 1. 49-Brad Sweet[1]; 2. 2-David Gravel[2]; 3. 18-Giovanni Scelzi[4]; 4. 1T-Tanner Holmes[3]; 5. 41-Carson Macedo[8]; 6. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild[6]; 7. 10-Dave Blaney[10]; 8. 32B-Dale Blaney[11]; 9. 5-Spencer Bayston[12]; 10. 22-Cole Duncan[9]; 11. 83-James McFadden[5]; 12. 1S-Logan Schuchart[17]; 13. 3Z-Brock Zearfoss[20]; 14. 39M-Justin Sanders[7]; 15. 2F-AJ Flick[13]; 16. 15-Donny Schatz[21]; 17. 1M-Landon Myers[14]; 18. 13-Brandon Matus[16]; 19. 4-Danny Smith[23]; 20. 2X-Ricky Peterson[24]; 21. 5M-Jeremy Weaver[15]; 22. 11J-David Kalb[18]; 23. (DNF) 08-Danny Kuriger[22]; 24. (DNF) 6F-Bob Felmlee[19]