BARBERVILLE, Fla. – Brad Sweet started his sprint car season in the United States the same way he ended last year, standing atop the podium over the rest of his challengers.
Sweet, who won last year’s World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series championship, kick-started the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet All Star Circuit of Champions campaign with a victory Wednesday at Volusia Speedway Park during the first of five nights of sprint car racing at the annual DIRTcar Nationals.
The Grass Valley, Calif., native took the Kasey Kahne Racing-owned, NAPA Auto Parts-backed No. 49 past Ian Madsen on the 14th rotation of the half-mile dirt oval, then held Madsen off down the stretch to notch his fifth-career All Star win.
Wednesday night’s triumph was worth $5,000 to Sweet, who led the final 12 laps of the 25-lap feature.
“Any time you win, it’s fun,” said Sweet. “That was a great race. I was really searching for a line in (turns) three and four. The grease would go away, and then someone would hit the water … so it would really change the complexion of the race down there. You really had to be mindful of which lines you were taking and what was happening with the race track.
“My car could run well up top, but it was definitely better on the bottom,” Sweet added. “I’m just happy to come out here … obviously it’s a title defense for us this season, and we feel like we’re the best team, and we want to win a lot of races this year. It’s pretty neat to start off the week (in Volusia) like this.”
Though Madsen started on the pole, it was Cory Eliason who opened up the lead at the start of the feature, jumping out to the point as Tim Shaffer slid into second and the rest of the field gave chase.
A lap got in the books before a slowing Sam Hafertepe Jr. brought out the only caution of the night, but that didn’t slow Eliason’s roll on the restart, as he jetted out to the lead while Madsen retook second from Shaffer.
Meanwhile, Sweet found himself locked in a torrid battle for third with KKR teammate James McFadden, a position Sweet finally took just moments before Madsen wrested the point from Eliason on lap seven.
The lead duo began to go at it in and out of traffic for the next several laps, allowing Sweet to close in up top before diving to the bottom of the fast half-mile on the 13th revolution and taking second from Eliason.
A lap later, the bottom lane paid more dividends for Sweet, as he took command from Madsen on lap 14 and never looked back after that.
Madsen hung on for second, noting that he was a little short compared to Sweet in the closing laps.
“This was an awesome night to kick off the year,” Madsen said. “With a brand-new crew – Tyler Swank and Adam Clark – I can’t thank those guys enough. They worked really hard during the offseason to get us prepared as best as they could for this year. We got close; you can never hang you head running (second) to Sweet.
“It’s definitely a hard one to give away at the end; I just got tight in traffic behind a couple cars (that) took my line away,” he added. “I wasn’t able to move around as much as Brad was in (turns) three and four, but we’ll take (second). Hopefully we can go one better tomorrow.”
Eliason completed the podium, followed by Kyle Larson, who charged from 14th to fourth in the Silva Motorsports No. 57.
McFadden crossed fifth, followed by Tim Shaffer, David Gravel, Sheldon Haudenschild, Brock Zearfoss and Donny Schatz, who raced into the feature from the B-main.
As the leaders were taking the checkered flag, Shane Stewart endured a vicious flip in the Sides Motorsports No. 7s in turn two. Stewart climbed out under his own power and walked away.
Brad Sweet, Ian Madsen, Cory Eliason, Kyle Larson, James McFadden, Tim Shaffer, David Gravel, Sheldon Haudenschild, Brock Zearfoss, Donny Schatz, Jacob Allen, Chad Kemenah, Logan Schuchart, Carson Macedo, Danny Dietrich, Kerry Madsen, Daryn Pittman, Shane Stewart, Paul McMahan, Parker Price-Miller, Kraig Kinser, Lucas Wolfe, Brian Brown, Sam Hafertepe Jr.