Column By: DYLAN FRIEBEL / RPW – ROSSBURG, OH – Simply magic on a Thursday Night at Eldora Speedway for Stewart Friesen.
While he is accustomed to winning big week day races, this one may be the biggest yet. In a Syracuse-esque Super DIRT Week style dirt race of fuel mileage, Friesen was able to win his first career NASCAR Truck Series event after six previous runner-up positions…most all-time for someone who had not won. That is, until Thursday night.
When the feature started, Friesen was slated to start fourth after winning his qualifying heat. Early on, the driver of Halmar International, Orange County Fair Speedway Centennial Weekend Chevy Silverado rocketed into second place behind 2018 winner Chase Briscoe, He looked as if he was just going to ride out on a top side-dominated track.
However, a caution on lap 14 for the #20 of Landon Huffman bunched the field back up and Friesen would end up starting on the bottom line.
On the restart, the driver of the #52 struggled to put the power down to find grip. He ended up slipping back to fifth and at the first stage break was back to sixth. This was the lowest he would be at any point throughout the night.
Crew chief Tripp Bruce and Friesen decided to stay out during the first break and went from sixth to third, as a few of the trucks in front of them pitted.
Friesen advanced to second at the end of the second stage. When leader Chase Briscoe came to pit road on lap 90 break, Friesen made the decision, himself, to stay out. He was going to attempt to be the first driver in the seven-year history of Eldora Dirt Derby to go all 150 laps on a single tank of fuel.
With the third stage being plagued by yellow flags, that played right into Friesen’s strategy. While that may have been the case, it honestly wasn’t the way he wanted it to go.
“You hate to get cautions at the end like that,” Friesen said. “While it helped us for fuel mileage, it was tough there at the end. It was super nerve-racking. I knew if I could get good restart, we’d run a few laps and then have a caution.”
Then, as a driver, you wonder.
“At that point, you just open yourself up to slide jobs,” he said. “You open yourself up to something crazy happening. I was just trying to get clean and there was a bunch of grip on the restarts up high. I wanted to beat everyone to turn one and get it rolling.”
It seemed as if the days of fuel mileage dirt races would play out once again for Stewart. With his four wins at the Syracuse Mile, days like those only prepared him for the decision he had to make at the end of Stage Two.
“This win was eerily similar to the first race I won at the mile in 2010,” he said. “That helped make the call at the end of the second stage when Tripp said ‘if Briscoe pits, you can either follow or stay out.’ I told him I wanted track position. The tires never really got hot or even wore. I have no idea how much gas we have left but i had to go for it.”
Despite taking 63 starts to get his first career win after a record six second place finishes, the confidence never wavered from anyone around Stewart. That is huge.
“After Pocono last week, I was pretty down,” he said. “Jess (Friesen, his wife) and I talked the whole way up to Fonda. She calmed me down and told me she supports me. So did Chris (Larsen from Halmar International). He told me I wouldn’t be driving for him if he did believe in me. I always put pressure on myself each week to win. I just have the best people behind me, from Jess, Chris, everyone on this team and all the fans.”
All of us in the northeast are use to Stewart Friesen winning dirt races on fuel mileage. Well, he showed the NASCAR world what’s made him so special on dirt. To win a race at Eldora as a dirt racer is the top of almost all bucket lists. However, to do it with the NASCAR Truck Series for your first win, that’s just downright magical.