PLACERVILLE, Calif. – Brad Sweet cashed his own $20,000 check on Wednesday night at Placerville Speedway, passing Rico Abreu early and then holding off Sheldon Haudenschild on a green-white-checkered restart to win the 49er Gold Rush Classic presented by Riebes NAPA Auto Parts.
The event, promoted by Sweet himself, was postponed from March 21 due to rain and later renamed, with the winner’s purse being doubled and the feature being extended by nine laps in honor of the miners that discovered gold in California just 10 miles away from the quarter-mile dirt track.
Sweet never faltered, though. The reigning Knoxville Nationals champion powered past Abreu and then led the final 43 laps en route to his second crown jewel win of the season and the 32nd win of his World of Outlaws career.
Wednesday night’s event was extended from 49 laps to an even 50 due to the overtime finish, sparked by a multi-car crash in turns one and two after the leader had taken the white flag.
“I don’t know if that’s cool or not (to win your own race), but these guys work extra hard to give me a great race car. I know I’m putting on two caps by promoting the race, but my number one job is to come out here and get the job done,” said Sweet, who also won the preliminary night of the Gold Cup Race of Champions last weekend at Silver Dollar Speedway.
“I had a little extra incentive, with $20,000 on the line, and it’s nice to put the NAPA car in victory lane at the Riebes NAPA-sponsored event,” Sweet added. “That was a long 49 laps and it was tough in lapped traffic. The tricky part was picking my lines. I knew someone was back there, because I kept seeing a nose, but this is a hometown crowd, my friends and family are here … this is just great.”
Gold Cup champion Abreu and event promoter Brad Sweet led the 25-car field to the green flag from the front row, with Abreu eking out the early advantage and leading the first three laps before a caution flag waved for the spinning machine of Jason Sides on the bottom of the fourth corner.
When racing resumed, Abreu quickly reopened eight car lengths over Sweet, but the reigning Knoxville Nationals would not be denied and took command over the field when Abreu jumped the cushion and lost momentum on the eighth round in heavy traffic.
Abreu remained committed, however, and remained glued to Sweet’s back bumper despite the momentary misstep that cost him the top spot. He took a look to Sweet’s inside coming down the frontstretch at the end of lap 13, but couldn’t make the move stick and fell back into line before Brent Marks got upside down in turn two the next time around, forcing a red flag and stopping the action.
Marks was uninjured in the accident and walked away under his own power.
When racing resumed, Abreu could do nothing with Sweet, who rocketed away on the restart to a one-second advantage and stretched his legs in clean track. Sweet’s speed, combined with a fierce challenge for second by Cory Eliason, meant that by the lap 20 benchmark the margin was a second and a quarter.
Five laps later, as the field crossed the halfway point, the lead for Sweet was a second and a half over Abreu, Sheldon Haudenschild, Eliason and fast qualifier Andy Forsberg.
As Sweet continued to lead, Haudenschild began gaining on Abreu, making the move for second on lap 28 before Abreu crossed him over and retook the spot a lap later. That, however, let Sweet move the needle out to 2.1 seconds before Sweet returned to traffic and had to deal with a hard-charging Abreu in the closing stages.
With 15 laps to go, Abreu had trimmed the gap down to two-thirds of a second and a circuit later, he was within three car lengths of the NAPA Auto Parts No. 49 in his quest for the victory as Eliason and Haudenschild made it a four-way fight at the front of the field.
Inside of 10 laps remaining, however, Sweet began to pull away one more time. He worked traffic to perfection and, despite Abreu’s best efforts as the road began to clear, Sweet used the cushion to hang on to the lead and appeared to be gone into the wind before mass chaos broke out on the final lap.
Jacob Allen got the worst end of a multi-car incident, getting upside down on the outside of turns one and two as D.J. Netto and Scott Bogucki also tangled at the exit of the corner.
Abreu and Haudenschild came together in turn four just prior to the accident on the other end of the speedway, with Abreu forced to retire due to broken steering less than a lap away from the finish.
That left Haudenschild to duel with Sweet on the two-lap overtime dash, but Haudenschild stumbled and could do nothing with the California native in the battle for the race win.
“I didn’t know if I had anything for Brad, but I knew I had to get a good jump (on the restart) and I didn’t,” noted Haudenschild. “I didn’t have a chance to slide him. I thought about following him, but he ripped it so well on the top that I wasn’t making any ground up. He did a great job … hopefully the fans enjoyed the show, because I had a blast.
“Running with Brad and Rico, you can’t make any mistakes and we definitely made a few that kept us from challenging better. We’ll look forward to Calistoga and see what we can do there.”
Local California veteran Andy Forsberg completed the podium, followed by Tim Kaeding and Cory Eliason.
Tanner Thorson, Daryn Pittman, Logan Schuchart, Shane Golobic and World of Outlaws point leader Donny Schatz were the remainder of the top 10.
Brad Sweet, Sheldon Haudenschild, Andy Forsberg, Tim Kaeding, Cory Eliason, Tanner Thorson, Daryn Pittman, Logan Schuchart, Shane Golobic, Donny Schatz, Ian Madsen, Mason Moore, Justyn Cox, Shane Stewart, Bobby McMahan, Jacob Allen, Rico Abreu, Scott Bogucki, D.J. Netto, Jason Sides, Brent Marks, Bud Kaeding, Willie Croft, Justin Sanders.