Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – AVONDALE, AZ – Stewart Friesen can’t say he’s just a ‘dirt guy’ anymore.
After being penalized on the opening green flag of the race for what NASCAR officials called jumping the start, Friesen and his Halmar Racing team kept their cool and worked their way back to the front of the field.
Once they did that, they were able to secure the most important win of their season, to date, taking the victory in the Lucas Oil 150 and punching their ticket to the Championship 4 race at Homestead.
“We were able to win this because we have a great race team and a great spotter,” Friesen said in victory lane. “Rick Carelli (Friesen’s spotter) is the best in the business. He kept me calm and Trip (Bruce, crew chief) is the calmest guy I’ve ever met in my life and we just had an amazing truck tonight.”
After facing adversity early in the race, Friesen didn’t lose his composure even though he felt the penalty wasn’t warranted as the lead truck, pole sitter Austin Hill, appeared to spin his tires and the truck behind Friesen, the 99 of Ben Rhoades, was pushing the 52 at the same time.
“That was brutal to start,” he said. “It was a bad call at the start of the race. Even though we got the raw end of things, it didn’t mean we weren’t upset with it. We just dug down and got to work.”
That may have been the motivation that Friesen needed on Friday, if he really needed any. He qualified second fastest in time trials and had a quick basically through the entire day…practice, qualifying and race.
“We unloaded fast off the truck which is key at these races,” he said. “You get two sets of practice but one set of tires. It’s really tough to ‘find’ speed if you don’t have it right away. We did some great simulation work with Chevrolet earlier in the week and it really correlated well with the way the track was.”
It doesn’t hurt that Stewart loves racing out in the desert.
“Phoenix (ISM Raceway) is one of my favorites,” he said. “It doesn’t hurt that the GMS Fab Shop gave us a brand new truck to bring down here to run and that really helped us tonight.”
Still, it took a lot of patience and determination to get back to the front after the early race penalty.
“We had speed in the race and clawed our way back up through,” he said. “We got a little tight at the end of the race. Thought Brandon Jones (second place finisher) was going to get us. We were able to hold him off and squeak away at the end.”
Now, focus shifts to the Championship race for the NASCAR Truck Series at the Homestead-Miami Speedway next Friday night. Friesen is one of four drivers, along with Brett Moffitt, Ross Chastain and Matt Crafton, with a shot to win the title in the ‘winner takes all’ format.
Can Friesen capture the crown?
“Absolutely, it’s awesome,” he said. “That’s what we’ve been geared up for all year long. We just haven’t gotten all of our breaks and we’ve lost races every which way you could lose them. I thought it was going to be another one tonight but our team worked hard and we got it done.”
This win has to be such a boost of confidence, not only for the team, but for the driver himself.
“We’ve got some good momentum heading to Homestead,” he said. “We’re going with the truck we had at Vegas where we had some motor problems, but it makes good downforce so we’re looking forward to that. We just need to go and execute like we did tonight.”
The rest of this weekend, Friesen plans to celebrate with his family, wife Jessica, son, Parker, and a whole bunch of friends, but after that, it’s time to get to work.
“We’re gonna party this one up tomorrow,” he said. “A lot of celebrating on Lykers Rd but then it’s game on. We’ve got a bad ass piece for next week at Homestead.”