Opening night of the Wine Country Classic at Calistoga Speedway was a Sweet homecoming for an Outlaw.
World of Outlaws touring driver Brad Sweet returned to his native Northern California to win the opening round Friday night and defend his race win from 2015, the most recent year the race has been run on the half-mile oval at the Napa County Fairgrounds.
Sweet, who was also the night’s fastest qualifier at 16.353 seconds (108 mph), earned the pole for the main event by winning his heat race. He then dueled over most of the 25 laps with Napa Valley driver Rico Abreu, who was disqualified from what appeared to be a second-place finish when his car failed to meet the minimum weight rule in post-race inspection.
Abreu jumped into the lead at the drop of the green flag and led the first two laps before Sweet powered under him in turn one and took the lead on the backstretch. Sweet never relinquished the lead for the rest of the race. But the pair ran nose to tail or side by side most of the race in a game of “high and low,” with Abreu running the high groove of the race track up against the fence and Sweet running the low line on the berm through the corners.
The race was slowed by several yellow flags, which regrouped the field and gave Abreu fresh opportunities to challenge Sweet. But they also proved to be Abreu’s undoing by the end of the race.
On a restart with six laps to go, Sweet ran off to a multi-car lead.
“We had a good race car and it drove well all night long. It’s good to get a win,” he said of his fifth victory of the year.
It was the first win since June for Sweet, who is in a torrid championship point battle with eight-time WoO titleholder Donny Schatz of North Dakota.
“It gives us confidence going into the final 20 races of the year,” Sweet added.
Meanwhile, Abreu had to fend off a hard-charging Logan Schuchart, a World of Outlaw regular from Pennsylvania who had run up through the field from his 13th starting spot. As the pair drove under the checkered flag, it appeared that Abreu had held on to the spot by a bumper.
But everything Abreu appeared to earn on the race track was lost at the scales when his car was weighed to make the finish official. He was disqualified when his car failed to meet the minimum 1.400 pounds.
Although the cars run at pace-lap speed under yellow caution flags, the extra laps took their toll. Abreu’s car was 25 pounds under the allowable minimum, equal to about three gallons of fuel.
“We ran out of fuel. It happens sometimes,” Abreu said with resignation.
Schuchart, who also ran out of fuel as he drove under the checkered flag, said it was hard to gauge how the car handled as it got lighter and the fuel load went down. But he was glad he could hang on for the runner-up spot.
Taking third was Oklahoma driver Shane Stewart, the winner of last weekend’s Gold Cup. He acknowledged his good fortune from Abreu’s disqualification.
“We didn’t earn third, but we are glad to be here,” Stewart said.
Defending WoO champion Donny Schatz struggled all night long, barely qualifying for the race with engine problems. When an engine switch didn’t solve what appeared to a fuel problem, Schatz pulled a backup car out of the trailer. He raced his way into the main event by finishing fourth in the semi and then stormed up to fourth in the main event after starting 21st in the 24-car field.
Robby Sawyer of Bakersfield won the companion 25-lap event for modifieds, but only after surviving hard challenges from Randy McCDaniel of Marysvlle and Bobby Hogge of Salinas.
The Wine Country Classic was to conclude Saturday night with the World of Outlaws sprint cars.