Williamson, Sweet, Sheppard Celebrate Titles at Can-Am World Finals
For one night, second meant first.
Three champions were crowned in front of a sold-out Can-Am World Finals crowd on Saturday night at The Dirt Track at Charlotte - and the two closest battles saw both champions finish second in their respective races to clinch their titles.
Kasey Kahne Racing driver Brad Sweet finished second to David Gravel in the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series feature to win his first championship in the world's most prestigious open-wheel dirt series. Sweet won the crown by four points over Donny Schatz - in the closest finish ever - to secure a second title for KKR and the team's first since Daryn Pittman triumphed in 2013.
Mat Williamson snared his first Super DIRTcar Series big-block modified championship with a runner-up finish to Billy Decker. Williamson edged Matt Sheppard in a hard-fought showdown that came down to the final laps.
Jimmy Owens capped a thrilling night of racing by winning the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series feature.
Sweet and Schatz waged an electrifying duel for the World of Outlaws sprint title during both feature nights of the World Finals. Schatz had cut Sweet's points lead to a scant two after finishing second in Friday night's race, setting the stage for a scintillating final event.
Schatz passed Sweet for third place on the sixth of 30 laps, but Sweet rallied to retake the spot. Four laps later, Sweet moved into second and Schatz to third, and that's where the duo finished.
"I was going as hard as I could and just slipped off of (Turn) 2," Sweet said. "Did not surprise me to see the 15 (of Schatz) drive by me. But luckily got back up in the seat and was able to sneak back under him. I told myself, 'Don't do that again.' (Feature winner) David (Gravel) was super fast; I was cheering him on, telling him to go.
"I've never been so happy to run second in my entire life."
Sweet made a stellar move to miss the spinning car of Danny Dietrich with 10 laps to go, darting to the left off Turn 2 to preserve his spot. On the restart, Sweet began counting down the laps.
"It felt like the longest 10 laps of my life," Sweet said. "When (the flagman) held five to go, I thought, 'Are you sure that's not the white flag?' I just drove as hard as I could and hoped I held off Donny. It was the happiest second place we've ever had.
"It's a long grind running 80 races out here. There's a lot of ups and downs, and to finish it right here, it made me cry, for sure. It's a huge team effort to accomplish these championships. … We're happy to get our first one, and we're going to do a little celebrating tonight."
Schatz, a 10-time series champion, didn't go down easy.
"We were racing to win," Schatz said. "That's what put us in that position a lot of time. My guys did a great job. We did everything we could, I drove it as hard as I could. … Just wasn't good enough. Those guys were pretty good.
"We're going to have to swallow hard: We ran second. It's happened before. This team has been a part of a championship battle for a lot of years. We're not done."
Gravel completed a sweep of the World Finals, dominating the sprint car A-Main for the second night in a row. Gravel won for the 51st time in his World of Outlaws career and for the third time at Charlotte.
"Last night, the car was OK," Gravel said. "But tonight, it was freaking badass. I had the best race car tonight, hands down. I could go anywhere, top, bottom, and it showed. I felt like I got through lapped traffic really, really good, and my job was easy."
Williamson, of St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, edged seven-time series champion Sheppard to become the first Canadian to win the Super DIRTcar Series title.
"This is everything I've ever dreamed of," an emotional Williamson said after the race. "I can't believe we got it done."
Sheppard took the lead just past the halfway point but lost the top spot to Billy Decker with 14 laps remaining and then slipped to third when Williamson got by. Sheppard ended up fourth behind Michael Maresca. Max McLaughlin finished fifth.
"That was tough," Williamson said of battling for position in the season-finale. "I really didn't know what to think when Matt got back on Billy there. I tried to keep my cool and stay with them. … Man, I'll take this second every day of the week."
Decker dominated Friday's feature but had a left-rear tire and was forced out of the lead. But he had no such bad luck Saturday, winning his first race of 2019 and first at The Dirt Track at Charlotte.
"When that (car) came out of the box, it was a rocket ship," Decker said. "It's fun to be a part of (World Finals). Last night, we felt like one got away from us, and it had be down pretty hard. But we came out swinging today. What a great race car. It finally feels good to get a win here at the World Finals."
Owens held off a late charge from Ricky Weiss to win his seventh World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series race at The Dirt Track at Charlotte. Dale McDowell was third, with Mike Marlar fourth and Chris Madden, who won Friday's feature, fifth.
"Man, it was an extremely fun race," Owens said. "It's great to be back in victory lane. (Our car) was a little bit too tight. When I'd move up a lane, I couldn't steer as good as I wanted to. So I either had to go all the way to the top or toward the middle. … But we were able to hold him off and come home with a win."
Series champion Brandon Sheppard, who clinched the title before this weekend, finished 11th. Sheppard tied a series record with 18 victories in 2019.
"It was just a phenomenal year," Sheppard said. "I can't even say enough about my team, my guys. They're the best group of guys you could ever work with, and they do such a phenomenal job on this race car. It's a dream to drive, and it's a dream come true to drive for Mark Richards and Steve Baker. That's what it's all about, that's what my season is all about - those guys. I couldn't do it without them, for sure."
Race fans from all 50 states and nine countries - as far away as Tanzania and New Zealand - attended this weekend's three-day spectacular of dirt-flying, championship-deciding excitement.