CALISTOGA – 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…