Brad Sweet solidified his status in sprint car history with his second World of Outlaws championship this season.
After finally breaking through in 2019 and beating10-time WoO champ Donny Schatz by just four points—the closest margin in the series history—Sweet entered this season with the experience and confidence to defend his title.
Being on top, simply whetted Sweet’s appetite for more.
“Once you have it, you don’t want to lose it,” Sweet said with a laugh.
While securing consecutive championships, it was a tale of two very different title runs for the Grass Valley, Californian. In 2019, Sweet and Schatz went toe-to-toe, battling every week in one of the most grueling schedules in sports. Sweet picked up consistency—and a career-best 16 wins—as the season unfolded.
But 2020 provided an entirely different set of obstacles. With the coronavirus pandemic changing the course of the season, Sweet never really hit a similar stride. He started the season with a win at the DirtCar Nationals at Volusia Speedway Park, but that momentum came to a screeching halt when WoO went on a two-month hiatus.
“We had a lot of momentum on our side, came back pretty strong and started the season off well,” said Sweet, who turns 35 next week. “Covid—at the beginning of the season—took a little momentum from our race team but gave race teams time to regroup. We were off to a really good start and usually, you can carry that momentum from race-to-race because we race so much.
“But we never really got into that rhythm that we typically do in a normal Outlaw season. Not having our crown jewels definitely took the wind out of my sails. It was hard to be as motivated as normal. Typically, you get to the month of money with the World of Outlaws and you really start ramping everything up. You’re really focused. You know you’re going to put everything you got into the next couple months of racing because there’s so much money on the line with the crown jewel races and they took all of those away from us.”
Sweet isn’t complaining. Ultimately, his No. 49 Kasey Kahne Racing team grew stronger as the season progressed. They developed a different skill set and strategy when the season resumed. He won in the second race back at I-55 Raceway before hitting an unparalleled streak of bad luck over the summer.
“By mid-point of the season, we had some things happen that we typically haven't had happen over the last couple of years,” Sweet said. “We had three DNFs in a row, which we hadn’t had three DNFs in three or four seasons combined. It was just a different challenge that was thrown at us.
“We didn’t do a bad job of rebounding from it, but with the shorter season the points became a lot tighter and each race became a lot more important. We couldn't afford to have any more DNFs or any more accidents. We had four DNFs and still won the points—won the points by a lot.”
Over the course of a 55-race season, Sweet won seven races and finished with a 46-point advantage over Logan Schuchart. While the stats might appear deceiving, Sweet was satisfied with the team’s recovery.
“Racing for the points, for the championship can affect your race win total and maybe affect how it looks from the outside,” Sweet said. “I think we were running good at the end of the season and felt like we were back to where we needed to be.
“We just didn’t get the wins that we wanted to get this season, but what we were able to overcome and the lessons learned that will make us stronger for next year. Chasing the points can be a deterrent especially when you want to win races.
“It was hard to honestly stay motivated. The only thing we really had to shoot for was the championship. The silver lining was being able to pull that off. Now we can turn our focus to 2021.”
An unexpected benefit from the pandemic was the ability to spend more time with his friend and team owner, Kasey Kahne. With travel restrictions in place, KKR teammate James McFadden was initially unable to return from Australia, and Kahne subbed part-time in the No. 9 sprinter.
“It was good,” Sweet said. “I was happy for him. He’s been kind of beat up over the last couple of years. Racing is a huge part of Kasey’s life. For me, I don’t think he really got to go out the way he wanted to in NASCAR—and he was going to be able to enjoy sprint cars for years to come then injured himself. You could see that he lost confidence and things. So it was nice for him to get back in and prove to himself that he was able to do it, maybe go out on his own terms. He showed up and raced at Charlotte at the end of the year, so he has confidence that he can do it.
“It was fun having him around. It was fun watching him get better and better, get his passion back and have fun racing. He had fun working on the car when James got back. He’s just passionate about racing—and sprint car racing in general. A lot of people don’t realize how into it he really is. It was cool. I was happy for him.”
Certainly, driving for a team owner with an extensive racing background who shares his same enthusiasm for the sport is beneficial for Sweet. The proof is KKR winning three championships over the last eight seasons.
“We’re all a team trying to win together,” Sweet said. “That’s probably why we’re successful. He doesn’t necessarily put pressure on us or breathes down our throats to perform. It’s more like, ‘What can we do to be better?’ If we have an off night, after we debrief, if his car wasn’t handling good, he wants to know what my car did different. If his car is handling better than what can we do to help my car?
“It’s just teamwork to try and make everything better. I think that’s what makes Kasey Kahne Racing successful. Obviously, we all want to win. That’s why we’re there—and the best team in the country is Kasey Kahne Racing. We’re expected to win. We have great sponsors. NAPA Auto Parts expects us to win. It’s just nice how it all came together and we were able to win the championship over the last two years.”