SUNSHINE STEALS ONE: Tyler Courtney Sneaks by Abreu in Final Corner for Volusia Victory

By Alex Nieten

You can’t ever give up in Sprint Car Racing. Action happens so fast all over the track that a driver’s outlook can change in an instant. And that’s exactly what happened on Friday night to send Tyler Courtney to World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Victory Lane.

Courtney chased after race-long leader Rico Abreu for nearly all 25 laps at Volusia Speedway Park. He’d come close to Abreu multiple times, but the chance at a win appeared gone as the checkered flag began to wave. But in the final corner Abreu tripped on the huge cushion, and Courtney capitalized on the bottom to roll right on by.

The wild drag race to the finish brought the massive crowd to its feet as Courtney claimed night three of the Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals. “Sunshine” himself stole one in the “Sunshine State.”

The win moved Courtney’s total with The Greatest Show on Dirt to three. The entire trio have come on three of the country’s fastest half miles – Eldora Speedway, Port Royal Speedway, and now Volusia. The Indianapolis, IN native became the 21st different driver to top a World of Outlaws race at “The World’s Fastest Half Mile.” Friday was Courtney’s 15th Sprint Car appearance at Volusia.

“I saw the double checkers, and I didn’t know if we’d already gone another lap or that was actually the end of the race,” Courtney said. “And I looked at the board and saw the #7 (BC) was number one. It’s just awesome man.”

Bringing the field to green was 16-year-old Landon Crawley on the pole with Abreu to his outside. Crawley attempted to slide in front of Abreu in Turns 1 and 2, but the St. Helena, CA native ripped by the teenager on the top to take the early lead. Courtney, who started third, also slipped by Crawley on the opening lap to grab second.

A caution and then a red flag for a huge pileup on the front straightaway interrupted the flow of action in the first half of the race.

On a restart with 19 laps to go, another contender began to assert himself while Abreu and Courtney maintained the top spots up front. After starting 10th, Brad Sweet powered by both Giovanni Scelzi and Landon Crawley to rise into fourth with plenty of time remaining. Another yellow with 15 to go opened the door for Sweet to power ahead of David Gravel for the third spot.

Disaster nearly struck Abreu with 10 laps remaining. After clearing two lapped cars, Abreu stumbled on the cushion in Turn 4 and got sideways, leaving Brenham Crouch nowhere to go. Crouch slammed into Abreu’s side and spun to bring out the yellow. Fortunately for Abreu, his car left the scene unharmed allowing him to maintain the lead.

On the restart Abreu darted ahead of Courtney who found himself having to fend off Sweet. “The Big Cat” began to work the bottom and showed Courtney a nose, which wound up benefitting Courtney. He quickly adjusted the Clauson Marshall Racing/NOS Energy Drink #7BC to prevent Sweet from passing him and found speed on the low line in Turns 1 and 2.

“I knew I was getting tight behind him (Abreu) in traffic on the top of (Turns) 3 and 4,” Courtney said. “Luckily Brad showed me the bottom, and so I moved down there. I knew I was making ground up in (Turns) 1 and 2, but in (Turns) 3 and 4 I just started going to the bottom to see if I could do something different. Honestly, I didn’t know how many laps were left, but I knew if I could get him to mess up or let him mess up somehow, running the bottom was going to be much safer.”

Safer is exactly what the bottom turned out to be. Courtney closed in on Abreu’s tail tank in traffic as the white flag flew. Abreu opted to protect the bottom in Turns 1 and 2 which worked as he pulled ahead down the back straightaway. But in Turns 3 and 4 he returned to the cushion and went slightly above it leaving the lane for Courtney to steal the victory.

“I didn’t know it was that exciting until I realized what we did there at the end,” Courtney said. “That was fun. It was non-stop the whole time. Even though we were just running around the top, it’s a lot harder than people think. That top was real treacherous. You get your right-rear (tire) just over it a little bit, it sucks you over.”

For the second straight night Abreu was forced to settle for the runner-up spot. He admitted he could’ve driven a little more reserved in the final set of corners but also acknowledged you can’t ever let up in a Sprint Car race.

“It’s just tough racing, just trying to process keeping your momentum up in traffic and hitting your marks,” Abreu said. “It’s the last lap, and you’re still racing hard. We’re Sprint Car Racing here, so we’re racing as hard as we can for 25 laps on a demanding and technical track. I felt pretty sporty on the cushion. I knew I was good off of (Turn) 2, but I never ran the bottom all race in (Turns) 3 and 4. I should’ve just drove a little bit more secure on the white flag lap, but you never know who is behind you and how close they are.”

Rounding out the podium after his charge from 10th was Brad Sweet. The five-time World of Outlaws champion came away a little disappointed with himself after a small mistake cost him a chance to potentially be the one driving by Abreu coming to the finish line.

“I’m a little disappointed in myself,” Sweet admitted. “I felt like I had kind of found the groove on the bottom of (Turns) 1 and 2 and put myself in a good position, but then got in the grease just a little bit and overdrove (Turn) 3 just a little bit and got out. And Tyler got back by me, but then once he knew where the line was he covered it really well and ultimately won the race.”

Giovanni Scelzi and David Gravel completed the top five.

Gravel’s effort allowed him to maintain his lead in the Big Gator standings. Courtney sits second eight points back. Giovanni Scelzi (-14), Rico Abreu (-16), and Donny Schatz (-18) complete the top five with one night to go.

Donny Schatz earned the KSE Racing Hard Charger with a drive from 18th to sixth.

Brent Marks claimed his fourth career Simpson Quick Time in Sea Foam Qualifying.

NOS Energy Drink Heats One, Three, and Four were topped by Brent Marks, Brian Brown, and Rico Abreu. Giovanni Scelzi claimed Milton Hershey School Heat Two.

Landon Crawley won the Toyota Racing Dash.

Corey Day won the Micro-Lite Last Chance Showdown.

UP NEXT: The World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Cars wrap up their portion of the Federated Auto Parts DIRTcar Nationals with a $20,000-to-win, $1,500-to-start finale on Saturday, Feb. 10. For tickets, CLICK HERE.

If you can’t make it to the track, catch all of the action live on DIRTVision.

NOS Energy Drink Feature (25 Laps): 1. 7BC-Tyler Courtney[3]; 2. 24-Rico Abreu[2]; 3. 49-Brad Sweet[10]; 4. 18-Giovanni Scelzi[6]; 5. 2-David Gravel[4]; 6. 15-Donny Schatz[18]; 7. 1S-Logan Schuchart[16]; 8. 19-Brent Marks[5]; 9. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr[9]; 10. 39M-Anthony Macri[14]; 11. 21-Brian Brown[8]; 12. 26-Zeb Wise[7]; 13. 3Z-Brock Zearfoss[12]; 14. 14-Corey Day[21]; 15. 48-Danny Dietrich[24]; 16. 41-Carson Macedo[11]; 17. 83-Michael Kofoid[17]; 18. 22-Riley Goodno[20]; 19. 7S-Landon Crawley[1]; 20. 17B-Bill Balog[27]; 21. 1-Brenham Crouch[22]; 22. 88-Austin McCarl[13]; 23. 13-Justin Peck[15]; 24. 5-Spencer Bayston[19]; 25. 17-Sheldon Haudenschild[25]; 26. 0-Justin Whittall[23]; 27. 6-Bill Rose[26]