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World of Outlaws – Arizona Invasion

The World of Outlaws invaded Arizona, visiting Cocoaph Speedway on Friday & Arizona Speedway on Saturday!

Cocopah Speedway – 4/7/2017

1991 was the last time the World of Outlaws visited Cocopah Speedway, when it was known then as “Yuma Speedway”.  Obviously, a lot has changed since then, namely the building of Cocopah Hotel/Casino across the street and re-branding the track to it’s current name: “Cocopah Speedway”.
Cocopah Hotel/Casino is across the street and they offer a tram that travels to/from the track!
Yuma Speedway received a much-needed “facelift”, including updated facilities & grandstand seating, following its re-branding to Cocopah Speedway!
However, most of the World of Outlaws Teams have visited Cocopah Speedway recently, competing in the familiar Winter Heat Series in January, which was held the past couple of years before taking a brief hiatus this season.  Regardless of what year it is, or what event is being held at Cocopah Speedway, you can bet that the usual suspects will be competing for the win!
Cocopah Speedway is a large 3/8th’s mile dirt oval located in Somerton, Arizona, just Southwest of Yuma
Near 95-degree “Spring” weather greeted the Outlaw Teams, which is unseasonably warm for this time of year.  It appeared that the Track Crew had applied plenty of moisture to the racing surface, but it is always tough to prepare for that kind of heat.  Hot Laps went-off without a hitch, but I noted that Daryn Pittman appeared to suffer some mechanical problems, as he needed a push back to the pits.  Initially, I was excited that the Track Record may be threatened during Qualifying, as the track surface offered “hammer-down” conditions during Hot Laps.  However, that notion was quickly cast aside, as the surface began drying quickly.

Qualifying

As Dirt Racing fans, we have all seen some nights were it clearly “pays” to go-out early in Qualifying.  There may be some nights where drivers who go-out late have an advantage.  Well, tonight’s quickly-drying track conditions meant that you needed to qualify early, if you wanted a chance at setting Quick Time.  “The Big Cat” Brad Sweet did just that, ripping a 13.529 second lap around the large 3/8ths mile dirt oval!  6 of the top-10 qualifiers were within the first 8 cars to hit the track, during Qualifying.  Comparatively, “Blackjack” Brian Brown was the 19th driver to take time and went 6th quick, running a 13.926 (0.397 seconds behind Sweet).  Daryn Pittman’s woes continued, as he could not get his car’s engine to fire and he was unable to make a lap.  His KKR Team would be tasked with an engine change, prior to their upcoming Heat Race.  Regardless of the changing Track conditions during Qualifying, everyone knew that there would be a “level playing field” during the upcoming Heat Races!
“The Big Cat” Brad Sweet and the rest of Heat Race 1 prepare to take the green flag!

Heat Races, Dash & Last Chance Showdown

Track position proved to be the “name of the game” on Friday night, as track conditions made it very difficult to pass.  Heat Racing and preliminary events proved to be no different, as starting up-front generally meant that you likely finished up-front.  “The Big Cat” Brad Sweet, “Pauls To The Wall” Paul McMahan and “Double Down” Jason Sides each led all 8 laps of their Heat Races, respectively.  With the top-6 finishers in each Heat Race “punching their ticket” to the feature, Daryn Pittman was one notable driver who did not transfer through his Heat and would have to compete during the Last Chance Showdown.
The World of Outlaws Craftsman Dash was inverted by 6, putting “Blackjack” Brian Brown on the pole.  The track position theme continued, as Brownie led all 6 laps uncontested and earned the pole for Friday night’s feature!  “Double Down” Jason Sides finished 2nd, followed by Donny Schatz, Sheldon Haudenschild, Brad Sweet and Paul McMahan.
Rookie of the Year contender, Brent Marks, won the Last Chance Showdown handily!  Jacob Allen, Billy Chester, Daryn Pittman, Austin Pierce and Clyde Knipp also joined Marks in transferring to Friday night’s main event!
Track conditions proved to be the biggest obstacle on Friday, with hot and dry conditions at Cocopah Speedway

Feature

Cocopah Speedway, you wanted the best, you got ’em 4-abreast!

Almost fittingly, with Cocopah Casino being directly across the street from the race track, “Blackjack” Brian Brown and “Double Down” Jason Sides shared the front row for Friday’s 30-lap main event!  Brown shot-out to the early lead and began hitting lapped traffic on lap 8, with Sides, Schatz, Sweet and Sheldon Haudenschild rounding-out the top-5.  I hate to “beat a dead horse”, but track conditions were less than ideal, as it was one-groove on the bottom and taking heavy rubber.  This did create excitement, however, as even Brown had trouble negotiating through the lapped cars.  As Brown continued leading, Donny Schatz and Brad Sweet both got around Jason Sides around lap 20.  In an all-too-familiar sight, the black/green Artic Cat 15 began to reel-in Brown for the lead and my initial thought was “there is no way Brown can hold-off Schatz for 10 laps”.  Both leaders hit lapped traffic again and the lapped cars were not willing to move out of the rubbered-groove, which remained around the extreme bottom of the racing surface.  There were numerous times where it appeared that Brown might make contact with a lapped car and it seemed that Schatz was simply waiting for his “time to strike”.  However, all of those anxious moments came to a halt, when Shane Stewart tangled with the lapped car of Clyde Knipp, causing both of them to spin in turns 3 & 4, bringing-out the race’s only caution flag.
Shane Stewart tangled with Clyde Knipp on lap 25, setting-up a 5 lap shootout to the finish, on Friday!
There are many “unknowns” in racing, especially when there is a 5-lap sprint to the finish!  However, one thing was certain: the leaders would no longer have to deal with lapped traffic.  “Blackjack” Brian Brown seemed to save a “little extra” during the race, as he sprinted to win the World of Outlaws feature by a little over 1 second, at Cocopah Speedway, leading all 30 laps!  Donny Schatz, Brad Sweet, Jason Sides and Paul McMahan rounded-out the top-5, on Friday!
“Blackjack” Brian Brown led all 30 laps on Friday, winning his 3rd career World of Outlaws feature!
Donny Schatz applied pressure to Brown during the last 10 laps, but didn’t quite have enough for the win
“The Big Cat” Brad Sweet enjoyed a solid 3rd place finish on Friday, after going Quick Time earlier in the evening

Results (starting position in parenthesis)

1. Brian Brown (1)  2. Donny Schatz (3)  3. Brad Sweet (5)  4. Jason Sides (2)  5. Paul McMahan (6)  6. Sheldon Haudenschild (4)  7. David Gravel (10)  8. Ian Madsen (7)  9. Parker Price-Miller (8)  10. Rico Abreu (12)  11. Logan Schuchart (13)  12. Jason Johnson (11)  13. Joey Saldana (15)  14. Daryn Pittman (22)  15. Greg Wilson (14)  16. Kraig Kinser (17)  17. Shane Stewart (9)  18. Dominic Scelzi (18)  19. Brent Marks (19)  20. Billy Chester (21)  21. Stevie Sussex (16)  22. Austin Pierce (23)  23. Clyde Knipp (24)  24. Jacob Allen (20)
Final track conditions at Cocopah Speedway, on Friday.  The track surface was very dry and took rubber early

Final Thoughts & Takeaways

First, let me say that the Greatest Show on Dirt never disappoints!  That being said, the track conditions were rather disappointing.  I have honestly never seen the Track Crew at Cocopah Speedway apply water, or work the surface, after Hot Laps have started.  I truly don’t know if it would’ve helped much on Friday, but I would’ve liked to have seen them try something.  Instead, the track was extremely dry and began taking rubber during the Heat Races.  Ultimately, the feature was a rubber-down single-line race on the bottom.  It was still a great show, though!  Talking to Brian Brown, following the feature, he confirmed that leading can be a very vulnerable and stressful situation.  Not only was he unaware of how close the next competitor was behind him, but he wasn’t sure how much he should attempt to save his right-rear tire.  Truth be told, he saved plenty, as he clearly had the best car for the final 5-lap shootout that unfolded.  The World of Outlaws remain in Arizona on Saturday, as they visit Arizona Speedway for the second consecutive year!

Arizona Speedway – 4/8/2017

2017 marks the 2nd consecutive year that the World of Outlaws have visited Arizona Speedway!
Temperatures were a little more “mild” on Saturday, with heat reaching only near 90-degrees.  The Arizona Speedway Track Crew was hard at work when I arrived, as they applied plenty of water, tilled, then applied additional water, before tilling again.  26 World of Outlaws Sprint Cars were checked-in for racing, with 22 NAPA non-wing Sprint Cars joining them in the night’s scheduled festivities.
Arizona Speedway is a small, semi-banked 3/8ths mile track in San Tan Valley, about 40 miles Southeast of Phoenix
After the extremely dry, dusty and rubber-down conditions experienced at Cocopah Speedway the previous night, I was very pleased to see how much moisture was being applied by the Arizona Speedway Track Crew!  I’ve also witnessed a very bumpy/rutted surface, during previous races at this track.  However, it was apparent that surface was in good shape and conditions only improved, as the night progressed!  Hot Laps were executed without any issues, while an extremely healthy crowd filed-in.  This is not only the second consecutive year that the Outlaws have visited the small 3/8th’s mile dirt oval in San Tan Valley, Arizona, but it is also the second consecutive year that a standing-room-only crowd was on-hand to witness the Greatest Show on Dirt!
A healthy, standing-room-only crowd packed the stands at Arizona Speedway, on Saturday night!

Qualifying

Lap times dipped into the high 12-second bracket during Hot Laps, hinting that the 12.531 second Track Record might be “at risk”.  However, even with very wet, hammer-down conditions, the Track Record would continue to stand after Saturday night’s Qualifying session ended.  “The Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” David Gravel earned Quick Time on the night, laying-down an impressive 12.747 second time!  Also, unlike the previous night, the Qualifying order had much less of an impression on the results, as Gravel was the 20th car to take time.  Gravel barely edged “The Brownsburg Bullet” Joey Saldana for Quick Time, going quicker by a mind-boggling 0.004 seconds!
David Gravel earned the pole position for Heat Race 1, pictured here, as they prepare for the green flag!

Heat Races, Dash & Last Chance Showdown

Heat Racing action was clean and quick, as the track continued to retain a large amount of moisture, with the quick line remaining around the bottom part of the track.  David Gravel added to his momentum, as he dominated Heat Race 1, with Joey Saldana and “Double Down” Jason Sides joining him as Heat Race winners!  There was not a large amount of passing during Heat Race action, especially for the lead.  However, there was plenty of action throughout the rest of the field, especially for Daryn Pittman.  Daryn bicycled big time in the first turn of his Heat Race, dropping him to the 8th and final position.  However, Pittman stormed back and finished 6th in his Heat, earning a transfer spot to Saturday night’s feature!  Kraig Kinser and Arizona-native, Stevie Sussex, were two notables who did not transfer through their Heat Races and they would have more work to do later, during the Last Chance Showdown.
“Blackjack” Brian Brown leads the 6-car Dash field as they prepare to go green!
For the second consecutive night, the Dash field was inverted by 6, putting last night’s winner, “Blackjack” Brian Brown, on the pole!  Brown would lead all 6 laps with little contest, not only winning the Dash for the second night in-a-row, but also earning the pole position for the feature, for the second consecutive night!  “Blackjack” held-off Rico Abreu, who finished 2nd, followed by “The Ragin’ Cajun” Jason Johnson, Joey Saldana, Jason Sides and David Gravel.  Their finishing order signified how they would start the 30-lap feature on Saturday night!
Tempe, Arizona native, Stevie Sussex, was aboard the Blazin’ Racing Buffalo Wild Wings 82 car for the 3rd consecutive race, on Saturday.  Not only did he have support from a large portion of the hometown crowd, but he led the first 11 laps of the Last Chance Showdown!  However, after holding-off Kraig Kinser for the first 11 laps, Kinser was able to slip by Sussex coming to the white flag, allowing Shark Racing’s Jacob Allen to also sneak by on the twelfth and final lap.  Sussex held-on to finish 3rd in the Last Chance Showdown, transferring to Saturday’s feature, along with Austin Pierce, and Billy Chester!

NAPA Non-Wing

As briefly mentioned earlier, 22 NAPA non-wing Sprint Cars joined the World of Outlaws on Saturday night’s festivities, at Arizona Speedway!  It was a rather thrilling race that saw the cushion push from the low-middle to the high-middle part of the racing surface.  Arizona Sprint Car ace, RJ Johnson, led all 20 laps with relative ease, rarely receiving any pressure from behind!
Arizona’s RJ Johnson dominated the 20-lap NAPA non-wing Sprint Car feature!

Feature

Arizona Speedway, you wanted the best, you got ’em 4-abreast!  If Johnny Gibson’s call doesn’t give you the chills, then you may need to check your pulse!

As we mentioned earlier, track conditions steadily improved throughout the night, at Arizona Speedway!  The Track Crew did an excellent job of tilling the cushion often, allowing it to be pushed higher.  This also ensured that the high line retained more moisture than the bottom, as the low line began to slick-off and take a hint of rubber.  This really created near-perfect track conditions for the 30-lap World of Outlaws feature, as it created an excellent opportunity for slide jobs!
“Blackjack” Brian Brown fired-off from the pole position, jumping out to a comfortable lead over Rico Abreu.  He began hitting lapped traffic early, just before the 10th circuit.  However, different from Friday night, he had options on where he could pass them.  After successfully maneuvering through the first “wave” of lapped traffic, Rico began to close-in on Brownie, as the race neared the halfway mark.  Rico executed a perfect slider on Brown entering turn 1, just past halfway!  David Gravel had successfully charged from his 6th place starting position and also threw a perfect slide job on “Blackjack” at the entrance of turn 1, on the very next lap.  Meanwhile, Jason Sides and Brad Sweet were waging an epic battle for the 4th position!  The two drivers exchanged slide jobs and the 4th position for numerous laps, before Sweet finally prevailed.  This allowed Donny Schatz to close-in on both of them, as it seemed like he might have something for the leaders, before the racing action was over.
However, ultimately, no one had anything for Rico Abreu on Saturday night, as he cruised to his first World of Outlaws feature victory of 2017!  “The Connecticut Yankee” David Gravel kept the gap close, but just didn’t quite have enough for Rico and settled for the runner-up spot.  Brian Brown took 3rd place, after leading the first half of the race, with Sweet and Sides rounding-out the top-5!
Rico Abreu won his first World of Outlaws feature of 2017 on Saturday night, at Arizona Speedway!
“The Connecticut Yankee” David Gravel had a solid run on Saturday, finishing in the runner-up spot!
“Blackjack” Brian Brown capped-off his Arizona tour with a solid 3rd place effort on Saturday!

Results (starting position in parenthesis)

1. Rico Abreu (2)  2. David Gravel (6)  3. Brian Brown (1)  4. Brad Sweet (7)  5. Jason Sides (5) 6. Donny Schatz (9)  7. Jason Johnson (3)  8. Shane Stewart (8)  9. Joey Saldana (4)  10. Paul McMahan (10)  11. Kraig Kinser (19)  12. Sheldon Haudenschild (15)  13. Ian Madsen (12)  14. Daryn Pittman (18)  15. Dominic Scelzi (13)  16. Greg Wilson (16)  17. Logan Schuchart (14)  18. Parker Price-Miller (17)  19. Brent Marks (11)  20. Stevie Sussex (21)  21. Austin Pierce (22)  22. Jacob Allen (20)  23. Billy Chester (23)  24. Lance Norick (24)
Arizona Speedway track conditions were nearly perfect on Saturday night!

Final Thoughts & Takeaways

Wow, the race on Saturday night was amazing!  30 laps of straight green, clean, slide job action from the best in the World.  It’s tough to explain the adrenaline rush that one gets, when watching the World of Outlaws (or most any Sprint Cars, for that matter) run on the ragged-edge, literally within inches of each other!  Also, first-time winners in the young 2017 season, on each night.  Most would bet that Donny Schatz, David Gravel, or Brad Sweet would continue adding to their win totals.  Granted, all three enjoyed solid finishes on both nights.  “Blackjack” Brian Brown was very impressive in Arizona, winning on Friday and finishing 3rd on Saturday night!  Overall, it was extremely clean racing on both nights, as there was only one caution through the entirety of both evenings.  There is no doubt about it, the World of Outlaws are truly the Greatest Show on Dirt!

Current Point Standings

1. Donny Schatz – 2000
2. David Gravel – 1928 (-72)
3. Brad Sweet – 1914 (-86)
4. Ian Madsen – 1826 (-174)
5. Daryn Pittman – 1810 (-190)
6. Shane Stewart – 1794 (-206)
7. Jason Johnson – 1790 (-210)
Sheldon Haudenschild – 1790 (-210)
9. Logan Schuchart – 1740 (-260)
10. Paul McMahan – 1726 (-274)
11. Joey Saldana – 1712 (-288)
12. Brent Marks – 1674 (-326)
13. Jason Sides – 1666 (-334)
14. Kraig Kinser – 1658 (-342)
15. Brian Brown – 1644 (-356)
16. Greg Wilson – 1628 (-372)
17. Rico Abreu – 1546 (-454)
18. Parker Price-Miller – 1400 (-600)
19. Jacob Allen – 1380 (-620)
20. Clyde Knipp – 1330 (-670)

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