Winning Moment: Tuesday (Feb. 7) marked the All-Star Circuit of Champions season opener at Volusia, but it was all Outlaws up front, with defending World of Outlaws champion Brad Sweet scoring a commanding win in the first 410 winged sprint car race of 2023.
Dramatic Moment: It was dramatic enough that Ashton Winger scored his first career Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series win (more on that later), but the deciding move that made that win happen came only 10 laps into a 30-lap race; Kyle Bronson all but took the lead from Winger on a restart, only for Winger to drive wide-open into turns 3 and 4 to keep the lead by inches at the start/finish line before retaking the point for good.
Role reversal of a move that Tyler Erb was able to block on Monday night, denying Winger a very likely win.
In a Nutshell: Tuesday night marked the start of major-league sprint car season and kicks off the signature Speedweeks stretch.
What They’ll Be Group Chatting About This Morning
Brad Sweet over David Gravel in the first 410 winged race of 2023 in convincing fashion. That’s gotta hurt.
There really wasn’t a ton that went wrong at Volusia Tuesday night, but the stretch of the racing program that saw two modified feature runs, the ASCoC Series do their in-person driver redraw, only to have two more modified features hit the track, felt interminably long. And it felt that way even before the fourth modified feature opened with a Big One that required a red flag for cleanup.
Lots to unpack here. One, Volusia violated the cardinal rule, which is there should never be an extended stretch where the headline cars are off the track for that long. Two, end the freaking in-person redraws. Listening to MCs ask drivers canned questions only to be told how hard the team is working is not worth holding up any program, much less a weekday event. And three, with sprint car racing already subject to more downtime than other mediums thanks to the cars being unable to start themselves, remember the impact all this downtime can have on an audience.
Even before the night started feeling long, my head about exploded listening to just how much nonsense was going on with the ASCoC race format. First, the top-four cars were inverted at the start of each heat. Then, during the pace laps it was noted that if the fourth-place starter (that was the fastest qualifier) could win the heat, it would eliminate a driver from the dash redraw later in the program. Then, when said fourth-place driver (Alex Bowman) fell outside the top five in the running order, it came out that if the fast qualifier doesn’t finish top five in the heat they don’t get an automatic spot in the dash redraw.
Just as I hate passing points because I don’t want to carry a slide rule into the racetrack, I don’t want to consult a flow chart to watch a heat race. Sprint cars get loud and go fast. Keep it simple. The WoO tour does and they draw bigger crowds doing it.
This was one of those awkward nights were two series with separate streaming deals were running at the same track, which meant that viewers had to switch from Flo Racing (which streams the ASCoC) to DirtVision (which streams UMP modifieds) every time a different class took the green flag. Yes, it sucked. No, it’s not going to change. There’s no reason for Flo Racing to want to share their premier sprint car property with DirtVision, and it’s not an even trade in any circumstance. Besides, those that didn’t have DirtVision didn’t miss anything.
Defending ASCoC champion Tyler Courtney (who also was the highest-finishing non-Outlaw in sprint car competition at Volusia Tuesday) was coy in discussing his 2023 plans during the dash redraw, saying simply “he’d be racing sprint cars” in 2023. Here’s hoping that means he will in fact join the ranks of the Outlaws (or even the High Limit Series) rather than pursuing another ASCoC crown. Courtney’s too good a driver not to get promoted.
Tuesday saw the second night of the Winternationals for the LOLMDS tour at East Bay get delayed for well over an hour after the track lights in turns 1 and 2 went out after the completion of the second heat race. Multiple fans posted on Facebook that the track found it to be the result of a bad breaker, forcing East Bay to position portable lighting to complete Tuesday’s program. Given that the track is slated for closure in March 2024, I’d wager there was number-crunching about the cost of long-term rentals being done this evening.
Lastly, for one piece of off-track news worth noting, I meant to include this yesterday, but damn if the Knoxville Nationals didn’t come to play with their announced prize money in 2023. Emmitt Hahn would do well to note that this event did this despite the fact that the Nationals draw huge car counts and sell at least twice as many tickets as the Chili Bowl does.
Hero of the Day
Winger’s win at East Bay on the LOLMDS tour was a big deal. Winning with a No. 12 team that’s been as stop/start as Winger’s career in recent seasons amidst one of the toughest fields in super late model racing all year is a big deal. A Rocket Chassis winning a super late model race anywhere in 2023 is a big deal. And seeing Winger score his victory literally by pulling off a move that he was unable to close the night prior can only be a major confidence boost for a driver that’s in top form. Winger’s a true Winternationals contender this year.
Victim of the Night
Make no mistake, Pine Level, N.C.’s Dustin Mitchell had a lot of speed at East Bay Tuesday night, but absolutely no luck after qualifying. Leading the third heat race, Mitchell found the biggest rut East Bay has seen so far during Speedweeks and lost the battle with it, coming up limp after landing his car.
Mitchell did manage to make the A-main Tuesday on a provisional based on his qualifying run, but he would fail to finish the feature after slowing and drawing a caution on lap 9.
Dirt tracks that ran oval track racing programs Tuesday night in the U.S.
Nation’s largest car count Tuesday, the DIRTcar Nationals at Volusia.
The nation’s largest purse awarded this weekend, to the winner of the ASCoC feature at Volusia Tuesday night.
Up Next: Frontstretch will be back Thursday morning (Feb. 8) with coverage of the third night of the DIRTcar Nationals from Volusia Speedway Park and the late model Winternationals from East Bay Raceway Park, along with the opening night of the Short Track Super Series Sunshine Swing at All-Tech Raceway. Streaming coverage can be found on DirtVision and Flo Racing, respectively.
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