The day of rest is over, if there ever was one.
Chariots of steel and carbon fiber have been assembled. Aluminum blocks strong enough to encase the force of thousands of small explosions have been built. Coats of paint and clear finishes have dried, giving off an alluring shine that’s provocative to the eyes.
The 2020 World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series season is at hand.
Yet the vivid euphoria that was the 2019 season still lingers. Brad Sweet and Donny Schatz’s championship battle was a gift incomparable to years prior.
The two titans of the series dueled with the respect and ferocity of comrades at war, constantly battling each other for wins and positions and trading the championship lead about every month.
Sweet gave Schatz a battle he arguably had never been faced with before and survived to tell the tale as the 2019 World of Outlaws champion – beating the 10-time World of Outlaws champion by a mere four points, the closest battle in the history of the series.
However, the 2019 season is destined to fade. The new season of the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series will again race from coast to coast into November and will see Sweet, of Grass Valley, Calif., and Schatz, of Fargo, N.D., resume their relentless battle for success, along with 10 other full-time series teams craving to join the title fight.
Neither Sweet nor Schatz are showing any signs of fatigue going into the new season. Both spent the off-season racing, and winning, in Australia. Better put, they were dominating.
Sweet picked up several wins, including one on New Year’s Day, while Schatz won just about everything he entered. Other than a few tweaks to their car’s livery, both enter the 2020 season with no changes to their respective teams.
Eric Prutzman, who was hand-picked by Sweet to be his crew chief, enters his third season at the helm of the Kasey Kahne Racing NAPA Auto Parts No. 49 team. In those three years, he and Sweet have won the Knoxville Nationals, Kings Royal and the 2019 championship.
Prutzman’s calm, quiet demeanor balances with Sweet’s energetic attitude to create a competitive package on track. And their performance last year shows they’re only growing.
For the second year in a row, Sweet broke his record for most wins in a season. He raised it to nine wins in 2018 and then almost doubled that to 16 wins in 2019. Sweet now has 50 career World of Outlaws wins – a number he’s stated he never imagined actually getting to.
Last year was a rare off year for Schatz. While he may not consider them excuses, Schatz did face setbacks and changes.
His long-time crew chief Ricky Warner, who he won hundreds of races and multiple championships with, left to help develop Ford’s new sprint car engine. He had two new, young crew members join the team.
Schatz also had personal challenges, such as his father being diagnosed with cancer.
He ended the 2019 season with 11 wins. It was the first time in six years Schatz hadn’t won more than 20 races in a season. It was also the first time in six years someone other than him won the most races in a year.
However, despite losing the championship by four points at the final race of the year, consistency began to show for Schatz and his Tony Stewart/Curb-Agajanian Racing team with four podium finishes in the final five races – two of them being wins.
One new variable that proved to be a positive in that time frame was the introduction of Ford’s FPS 410 engine, which he’ll have for the full 2020 season.
He’ll also retain his 2019 team, including crew chief Steve Swenson. The two already had an established relationship, with Swenson working on Schatz’s team as a crew member for several years before being promoted to his crew chief last year.
Now, with a year that many would classify as successful under their belt, they can focus on growing the team and getting back to their championship winning ways.
The last year Schatz didn’t win the championship was in 2013. He then went on a six-year championship run. With a new engine, a familiar team and his father in better health, we may see the return of a dominant Schatz.
If his racing performance and comical social media posts in Australia are any indication, Sweet and the rest of the competition may need to find another gear to keep up with the TSR No. 15.
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