By Rod Mullins
For Augusta Free Press
In this case, the broom could be considered dominance over the field, the competitors and wholly symbolic, sweeping away the obstacles enroute to a win.
David Gravel and Stewart Friesen did just that at The Last Great Colosseum by giving a sweeping performance that was worthy of being “The Greatest Show on Dirt”. It was the first World of Outlaws race on the high banks and the dirt of Bristol Motor Speedway in almost twenty years and the racing didn’t disappoint the drivers or the fans.
Gravel swept the weekend of racing on Friday night and again on Sunday afternoon by taking the checkered flag in the NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series feature, a 25 lap shootout and $25,000. The 27 year-old Waterton, Connecticut native also won Friday night’s 25-lap feature race for $10,000 payday.
Despite a dominating and winning performance on Friday night and a weather delay on Saturday, Gravel had to fight through the field to bring his racing machine to the front on Sunday afternoon. While he had praise for the surface at Bristol, Gravel said something wasn’t quite right with his car early on, describing it as sluggish and as though it took a little while to build up speed, as though the car wasn’t hitting on all cylinders.
Pole sitter Logan Schuchart led 23 of the 25-lap feature race before Gravel finally reeled him in and passed him with two laps to go. Schuchart’s car then broke which brought out a late caution and set up a final two-lap dash for the cash between Gravel and fellow front-runner Donny Schatz, who was seeking his 300th career victory.
On the restart, Gravel’s orange and black No. 2 machine got the jump and pulled away, grabbing his third win of the season and 60th of his career.
“I slipped back to third early and didn’t know if I could pass them,” Gravel said. “Our car was a little lazy in the first few laps and just needed to get the momentum going. Logan had a hellacious pace going there and then when he got in lapped traffic he had to slow down and figure things out. He made a couple mistakes, I did make a couple of mistakes and so did Donny too. I know Logan hadn’t broke when I passed him but it must’ve been shortly after that.”
Gravel said he continued to “keep his foot in the gas the entire race”, also adding that he was “aggressive” the entire time as Donny Schatz’ car was on his bumper most of the race.
Schatz’ performance was a noteworthy one as well. Although victory #300 eluded him, the Fargo, North Dakota native said following the race that he “wouldn’t say we are back, but we had a solid finish today, we had good speed.”
“We changed so many things to make it right but that’s just the nature of the beast. The guys have done a great job with the car. I think we were a third-place car there, but we ended up second so we will take it.”
Schatz, who finished fifth on Friday, passed Gravel for second place at one point in the race and the 10-time series champ thought the track was in good shape despite having to race in the daylight after Saturday’s racing was postponed due to weather.
The Bristol finishes are promising for Schatz and his Tony Stewart-owned team, despite early disappointments.
Aaron Reutzel finished third and was followed by Giovanni Scelzi and Paul McMahan in the top-five.
Notably missing from racing action on Sunday was Kyle Larson.
Larson finished sixth Friday, and was not able to compete in Sunday’s race driving Paul Silva’s No. 57. The Saturday postponement of racing action at Bristol forced the NASCAR driver to fly to Talladega in order to compete in the NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday afternoon.
Sam Hafertepe Jr. set a track record of 13.326 seconds at 142.098 mph and winning the World of Outlaws quick time award during Sprint Car qualifying but that was soon forgotten as Hafertepe Jr. finished last in the feature race.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver Stewart Friesen also showed the field and those attending what he is capable of. Friesen also took the win on Friday night and bounced back to claim the 40 lap, $10,000 victory in the SuperDIRTcar Series race.
In the Super DIRTcar Series feature race, Friesen scored his 28th career victory and third in a row for the season by holding off Demetrios Drellos in the closing laps to pocket another $10,000 payday.
The 37 year-old Canadian driver has competed at BMS six times in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, made his NASCAR Cup Series debut here in the Food City Dirt Race in March and has also raced a Super Late Model at Thunder Valley during the U.S. Short Track Nationals in the past.
Friesen had been eyeing a BMS Gladiator Sword for a long time. On this winning weekend, Friesen earned two of the coveted swords.
“It was very special to win here again,” Friesen said. “It was nice to have a day to celebrate in between and rest up and then come back and do it again. It’s a great weekend. I’m proud of the whole race team, it’s a pleasure to work with those guys.”
For Drellos, who finished 25th on Friday night, his car showed some power in Sunday’s race by winning his heat race and then mounting a strong two lap challenge to the Canadian driver in the last two laps.
“If we had one more lap it might’ve been different,” Drellos said. “We did everything we could to get up there but it just didn’t fall our way. It was a roller-coaster experience for sure. I think the trick here at Bristol is that under-adjusting is your friend here. I think our lap notes from Friday really helped us this afternoon.”
Max McLaughlin finished third and was followed by Mike Mahaney, who led several laps in the race with Ryan Watt rounding out the top five.
Super DIRTcar Series top qualifier Chris Hile, set a track record performance of 16.240 seconds at 116.601 mph but finished 20th.