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NOT DONE YET: Gravel Perfects the Low Line for World Finals Victory
Gravel opens World Finals with his 12th win of the year and cuts into Sweet’s point lead
CONCORD, NC (Nov. 2, 2023) - All the focus entering the 2023 World Finals was squarely on Brad Sweet and David Gravel. The two rolled into The Dirt Track at Charlotte engaged in battle for the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car championship for the third year in a row. Sweet held a solid but not insurmountable 50-point lead. Who would make the opening statement with three races ahead?
Give round one to Gravel.
The Watertown, CT native rolled the bottom of the Charlotte oval to perfection on Thursday night. He wheeled the Big Game Motorsports machine by Rico Abreu on the 14th circuit of the 25-lapper and held off Abreu’s late charge to secure the victory. The triumph coupled with Sweet’s fourth allowed Gravel to cut the margin down to 42 markers with two nights to go.
But Gravel isn’t looking at the points gap. His focus rests entirely on doing all he and the Big Game crew can do. And on the first night, they did absolutely everything they could do by maximizing points with a win.
“We just got to worry about winning races and having fun, and whatever happens happens,” Gravel said. “It’s good to get those extra two points for winning. Obviously, it’s still a bit of a long shot.
“I’m really glad they went and did that prep to the track. It maybe was a little bit dominant around the bottom there once it really came in, but it worked out for us.”
Gravel’s win moved him up to a dozen in 2023 with The Greatest Show on Dirt, which guarantees him at least a tie for the most this year. His 88th career World of Outlaws victory was also his 30th since joining Big Game Motorsports, the most any driver has tallied with Tod Quiring’s team that now owns 94 Series victories. It was also his sixth triumph at the Charlotte oval, giving him sole possession of the second most.
Gravel began the race in the third spot and slipped back fourth early while Rico Abreu rocketed by pole-sitter – Sheldon Haudenschild – to the early lead. Plenty of slicing and dicing took place for spots within the top five, and Gravel even fell back to fifth early on as Brad Sweet began to charge.
“The Big Cat” found the bottom line before any of the other competitors toward the front and quickly got to work. On the eighth circuit, Sweet powered the Kasey Kahne Racing #49 from fourth to second and set his sights on Abreu.
But before Sweet could get to Abreu’s tail tank, lapped traffic caused him to shift his lane. That opened the door for a fast-closing Gravel who mimicked Sweet’s early route on the bottom.
On Lap 14, Gravel looked under Sweet as they entered Turn 1. And he not only cleared Sweet down the back straightaway, he used his momentum to slip under Abreu heading into Turn 3 and snatch the lead.
“Brad found the bottom first, and then he kind of gave up on it,” Gravel explained. “I don’t know why nobody ran low on (corner) exits. I kind of had the exits to myself way low and used that drive to get down the straightaway. Cody (Jacobs), Scott (Vogelsong), and Zach (Patterson) gave me a great car.
“(Turns) 3 and 4 was a lot thinner than 1 and 2. It was a lot easier to hit it in 1 and 2, and when I missed it in 3 and 4, you about stopped. It feels terrible. You’ve got to make sure you slow down enough. So, I figured let me over-slow it to not miss it. I’d rather not miss it and go too slow than go too hard and miss it.”
After taking the top spot, Gravel began to put together a lead as he continued to roll the bottom and work through traffic. Carson Macedo looked poised to challenge Gravel when he rolled by Abreu for second with five laps remaining.
But then Abreu roared back around Macedo two laps later to reclaim runner-up. The St. Helena, CA driver managed to close in within a second, but Gravel held on to top the opening night of the World of Outlaws World Finals.
“We were okay early but great from halfway on,” Gravel said. “Our car was really, really good. It feels good to pass those guys and earn a win like that.”
Abreu took home the second spot aboard his own #24 machine. The result marked his 16th podium of the season with the World of Outlaws. Abreu felt happy with the speed of his car but felt he needed to navigate traffic better to have a better shot to win.
“You can judge a lot off lapped traffic,” Abreu said. “I felt like I needed to just be a little more patient in (Turns) 3 and 4. I was getting a little antsy when the #3 kept getting to my inside, and I tried running harder, and it just didn’t like that. We put ourselves in position, and track position was really key tonight. As a race leader you just work on processing those times when you’re leading and logging laps and trying to set a torrid pace. Your car gets so aero dependent when you catch traffic.”
Rounding out the top three was Carson Macedo aboard the Jason Johnson Racing #41. The Californian notched his 20th podium of the year, becoming the third driver to reach the mark. Macedo found the track conditions tricky especially early in the race in determining where to be.
“It just changed a lot,” Macedo noted. “You had to stay up on it, and it wasn’t easy. I feel like early in the race I thought the bottom was going to take over. I was able to get a good start and jump right there into third and got Sheldon (Haudenschild) on the bottom in (Turns) 3 and 4 and thought I’d just start plugging the bottom and catch him (Abreu). And then Sheldon went flying around me, and I thought the top had come in first. So, I got up, and then it was so quick. We got to traffic, and the bottom kind of gripped up. I couldn’t believe when I moved down in 3 and 4 how grippy it was down there for a little while.”
Sweet and Tyler Courtney completed the top five.
A massive drive from 26th to sixth earned James McFadden the KSE Racing Hard Charger.
Sheldon Haudenschild topped CASE No.1 Engine Oil Heat One (97th Heat Race win of career). NOS Energy Drink Heats Two through Four went to Rico Abreu (47th of career), Brad Sweet (238th of career), and David Gravel (239th of career).
Donny Schatz won the Micro-Lite Last Chance Showdown.
UP NEXT: The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars return to The Dirt Track at Charlotte for night two of the 2023 World Finals on Friday, Nov. 3 for another $15,000 to win Feature before Saturday's $25,000 to win season finale. For tickets, CLICK HERE.
If you can’t make it to the track, catch all of the action live on DIRTVision.
RESULTS:NOS Energy Drink Feature (25 Laps): 1. 2-David Gravel; 2. 24-Rico Abreu; 3. 41-Carson Macedo; 4. 49-Brad Sweet; 5. 7BC-Tyler Courtney; 6. 83-James McFadden; 7. 18-Giovanni Scelzi; 8. 1S-Logan Schuchart; 9. 19-Brent Marks; 10. 15-Donny Schatz; 11. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild; 12. 13-Justin Peck; 13. 14-Cole Macedo; 14. 69K-Justin Henderson; 15. 8-Cory Eliason; 16. 1A-Jacob Allen; 17. 39M-Anthony Macri; 18. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr; 19. 2MD-Cap Henry; 20. 21-Brian Brown; 21. 20G-Noah Gass; 22. 9-Kasey Kahne; 23. 42-Sye Lynch; 24. 1T-Tanner Holmes; 25. 5-Spencer Bayston; 26. 7S-Robbie Price; 27. 3Z-Brock Zearfoss