From Nick Graziano / worldofoutlaws.com
When the three champions raised their trophies to the painted background of fireworks and flames, two knew the routine while one experienced it for the first time.
Brad Sweet claimed his fourth straight World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series title (2019, 2020, 2021, 2022), Matt Sheppard claimed his second straight title and ninth overall (2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2021, 2022), and Dennis Erb Jr. earned his first career World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series championship.
Erb, of Carpentersville, IL, wrote his name into the history books for the World of Outlaws CASE Late Models this year with his first Series crown – worth $125,000.
Previously, Erb’s best points finish was fourth – twice. This year, with a career best performance overall, he mathematically clinched the title before having to travel to Charlotte. He ended the season with a season high four Series wins, 21 top fives and 33 top 10s.
“It feels really good,” Erb said. “It’s great actually. All the hard work and running up and down the road. A great season this year. Just running good and running up front, being able to win this now and being able to knock a check list of things I want to do, it’s a great feeling.”
Erb got t0 share the moment with his one and only crew member all season, his Crew Chief Heather Lyne. By claiming the title, she became the first female crew chief to win a national Late Model championship and a national motorsports championship in North America.
Lyne also won the Integra Crew Chief of the Year Award with the World of Outlaw CASE Late Models for the second straight year.
At 50 years old, Erb became the 11th different driver in World of Outlaws CASE Late Model Series history to win a championship.
Like Erb, Sheppard entered the 2022 World of Outlaws World Finals with his championship mathematically locked up. He managed to do so after winning his third Super DIRT Week Big Block title during the event’s historic 50th Running.
The Waterloo, NY driver finished third during the first of three Features of World Finals, but then suffered mechanical issues the next two nights, rounding out the season with seven Series wins – more than 40 overall for his season – 13 top fives and 15 top 10s.
“It’s a testament to this team and how good we were all season long,” said Sheppard who got to take home the $60,000 championship check. “When you’re having as good of a year as we’ve had, get some big wins, that ninth championship is definitely special.
“All and all it’s been a great season for us. You know, another championship, that’s why we do this.”
The same sentiment was shared by Brad Sweet, of Grass Valley, CA, and his Kasey Kahne Racing team.
They entered the weekend with a 16-point lead over David Gravel. However, having won three straight titles, Sweet had said while the intensity level was high he didn’t feel the same level of pressure.
He proved that by beating Gravel all three nights of World Finals, finishing third the first two nights and then fifth on Saturday. He concluded the 2022 season with a 48-point lead over Gravel, five Series wins, 41 top fives and 59 top 10s.
By Sweet’s standards, it wasn’t a great season. But still thrilled to claim another title – demonstrated by his attempt to do donuts in Turn 2 after Saturday’s Feature.
“It’s pretty surreal honestly,” Sweet said. “To grow up around this sport… to get one… it feels like it’s flashed by really quick. I don’t know why that is because it’s been a lot of hard work out here on the road. But every year it just goes by quick and is a lot of work. To sit back and think four in a row, I just would have never imagined to really string something like that together. But this team is pretty unreal because we didn’t even have that good of a year and we’re still champions. I think that says a lot about the resilience of my race team.”
Throughout Sweet’s four championship runs, he’s had the same three crew members making the title hunts possible with their NAPA Auto Parts #49 car – Crew Chief Eric Prutzman, Car Chief Joe Mooney and Tire Specialist Andrew Bowman.
Their hard work has put them in elite company. Along with claiming the biggest championship check in Series history – $200,000 – Sweet also joined 20-time champion Steve Kinser and 10-time champion Donny Schatz as the only drivers in Series history with four or more titles.
After the fireworks and fireballs faded from the night sky, and the drivers lowered their trophies, all three claimed the title of reigning champion for the 2023 season.
The World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Models will commence their 2023 season at Volusia Speedway Park for the Sunshine Nationals, Jan. 18-21.
The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series and Super DIRTcar Series will also open their 2023 seasons at Volusia Speedway Park, but during DIRTcar Nationals (Feb. 9-11 for the Sprint Cars and Feb. 15-18 for the Big Block Modifieds)
See the full story and results:
World Of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Final Points:
World Of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series Final Points:
Photo: Chris Owens / worldofoutlaws.com / Trent Gower