Column By: JOHN DOUGLAS / RPW – DAYTONA BEACH, FL
– Big Block Modified competitor Stewart Friesen set his sights on Florida to start yet another season in his racing career.
For the last two seasons that trip has been focused around his move to the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the Daytona International Speedway.
Friesen’s promising run ended in the final segment of the NextEra 250 but his performance out shined the results.
To know what Friesen accomplished in his No. 52 Halmar Friesen Racing with GMS Chevrolet on Friday night, is to know how he got there.
As a racer, Friesen cut his teeth on the dirt tracks of the Northeast and Canada. Racing against grizzly veterans who have more experience racing their modifieds than most racers have in anything, anywhere. The competition Friesen faced in the dirt modified ranks of the northeast pound for pound and dollar for dollar was the best proving ground Friesen could have asked for as he made the step up to the big time world of Stock Car racing.
His wins on the Syracuse Mile in a 200 lap event with aerodynamically massaged cars at higher speed than they ran all season and oh yeah, live pit stops just like the NASCAR folks like to do, were all part of his learning experience. Friesen knew how to win long races before he ever got to a paved track or NASCAR itself.
Starting ninth in a field of 32 trucks, Friesen was excited to get underway with his NASCAR season.
“I’m really happy,” Friesen said. “The whole Halmar / GMS Racing affiliation has been really great for us. These guys worked really hard all winter on this piece so I’m looking forward to getting out there in the draft and doing some work.”
Friesen was patient. Learning what he needed to learn from his truck and the trucks around him, he found himself in 12th position at the end of the first 20 lap Stage, just outside a top 10 playoff points paying position.
Stage two was much more promising. Working his way methodically through the pack, Friesen made more than one bold move to the outside lane taking things three-wide with little help from behind. He eventually found himself slotted into second place behind his GMS alliance-mate Johnny Sauter.
Friesen finished second in stage 2 as he pushed Sauter across the line for an ever important 10 playoff points and the Stage win.
The final Stage started out much like the first. After pit stops Friesen was relegated outside the top 10 for the restart with 54 laps to go. Boxed in by slower machines mid-pack, Friesen’s trek to the front was more difficult this time around.
With just 37 laps remaining Friesen again found himself moving all the way from 5th to 2nd place with the help of Johnny Sauter. Friesen merged back down to the low groove as the single file train at the front of the pack began to form up. Once again the HFR-GMS alliance was showing its strength at the front of the field.
A caution the very next lap brought most of the field down pit road, however John-Hunter Nemechek stayed out and assumed the lead. The shuffle of pit stops again relegated Friesen to the middle of the pack in seventh place. Unfortunately, for Friesen the three trucks ahead of him starting in his inside lane were not running competitive times with the leaders and on the restart the outside lane easily cleared most of the competition below.
John-Hunter Nemechek took the lead during the shuffle, but made contact with Ben Rhodes No. 41 Toyota, causing a tire rub on the No. 8 machine. The crew made the decision to leave Nemechek on the track and in turn three with just under 30 laps to go the tire gave way.
“I don’t know,” Friesen said after being released from the infield care center. “The JEGS truck had problems and a flat tire down the back. He got out of the way and then the eight (J.H. Nemechek), whatever problems he had the lap before obviously bit him in turn three there. I don’t know if he had something cut down there or what. I tried to get up and avoid it and got clipped in the right rear.”
Friesen’s night ended with a 27th place finish. Yet he showed his competence for not only asphalt racing but for patience and a level headed attitude, along with a lot of other traits that point to him being a future winner in the Camping World Truck Series.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series heads to Atlanta Motor Speedway on Saturday, February 24th for the Active Pest Control 200 benefiting Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.