By virtue of his win this past weekend at ISM Raceway in Phoenix, Stewart Friesen will go into the Ford EcoBoost 200 with a chance to win the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship. The Canadian driver will be making his first run at a series title on Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway up against two-time NGOTS champion Matt Crafton, defending series champion Brett Moffitt, and three-time race winner Ross Chastain.
Friesen himself has scored two victories in 2019 with the first coming on the dirt surface of Eldora Speedway prior to last week’s triumph in Arizona. With that, the 36-year-old believes his team is riding a wave of positive energy as they look forward the season finale in south Florida.
“It’s perfect,” Friesen declared when asked about the timing of the most recent win during his media availability following the Lucas Oil 150. “Great timing to build up some momentum for the championship. We had a great truck today that the GMS fab shop built for us. We’ve got our favorite truck that we’re running next week that we’ve got a lot of time under our belt with. We’re going to Homestead with a good notebook on that truck and a good notebook on the track so it’s all good.”
A particular source of both pride and relief regarding his win in Phoenix was the fact that it was the first victory on a paved track under NGOTS sanction for one of the top Dirt Modifed drivers in the country.
“Eldora was cool,” recalled Friesen of his first series win from back in the summer on the Ohio clay. “That’s what started this whole deal for us and that’s what got us involved in the truck series with Chris Larsen saying it would be really cool to go do that dirt race and it evolved and snowballed and here we are.”
Larsen and Friesen partnered to form Halmar Friesen Racing with the purpose of racing on the truck series. And by the driver’s own admission, the learning curve that has brought them to this point in just over two years time has been a steep one.
“We’ve let so many races get away with mistakes,” Friesen pointed out. “I made a ton of mistakes by not paying attention or not grasping the full concept of what was going on sometimes. It was good to finally get this one. It would suck to go to Homestead and win the championship and win the race and go ‘Oh, this is our first race’ but now that we’ve got that out of the way so we can really focus on getting the job done next week.”
The No. 52 team has compiled a solid record at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In three previous starts there, they have come away two top-10 results including a fourth place effort last year. But Friesen knows it will take more than just being solid to earn a series title.
“It’s going to be a tough race, obviously,” he stated. “It’s tough to pass at Homestead. Obviously tire fall-off is huge. It falls off from lap to lap. You can start a run and you’re wide open for a lap then it backs up, backs up, backs up. You’ve got to work that air bubble and there’s a lot of stuff you can manipulate at Homestead to help yourself out.”
The worn surface of the track located just south of Miami provides a challenge like few others the truck racers have faced throughout the season.
“I guess we’ve been there three times now and it’s gritty racetrack paved with the aggregate of the area so it’s like you’re racing on seashells because that’s what it is. That’s what the pavement plants have there,” the driver who finished seventh in the NGOTS standings last season explained. “It’s cool and it’s exciting. To go there and race for a championship is good. Like I said, it’s one of my favorite trucks, we’ve had a lot of speed with it at times. It was really fast at Vegas and these guys have got a good notebook with it. Hopefully we can go there and be fast.”
Because the truck series schedule does not call for competitors to race as frequently as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series or the NASCAR Xfinity Series schedules do, there are gaps of free time that allow these drivers to do other things. Friesen tends to find more opportunities to race. Recently, the driver of the No. 44 Modified machine pulled into victory lane at the Orange County Fair Speedway in Middletown, NY for the Eastern States 200. That checkered flag came with a very lucrative $40,000 payout.
“I don’t know what I would do on the off weeks if I wasn’t running the dirt car,” the winner of more than 275 dirt features declared. “It’s a great race team. It’s been pretty cool to see my guys that help me on the dirt car and the guys on the 52 truck intermingle. There’s stuff they can teach me that we can apply to the dirt car and we’ve won a couple of big races here in the last couple of weeks. It’s been a good mix between the two race teams.”
Friesen may in fact be racing for even more than just a championship in Miami. As of the time of his press conference in Phoenix, his future status as a truck racer was not entirely set in stone. There are issues remaining to be worked out for his team to continue its relationship with GMS Racing, which maintains the No. 52 ride in their North Carolina shop.
“Not 100% right now and that’s what I’ve got. We’re with some great people right now with GMS providing our equipment and it’s cool to be where we’re at right now. We’ll just get through next week and go from there. This sport changes and things evolve and revolve. We have a great race team and we’ve been really fortunate to be together for almost two-and-a-half years now when we started with GMS late in the season three years ago. It’s been great and we’ll keep rolling with it as long as we can.”
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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