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Stewart Friesen comes to Homestead with a sense of relief. With Friday night’s victory in the Lucas Oil 150 at ISM Raceway, he is no longer winless on pavement. In a series that only races on dirt once a year, it’s rather important to be able to win on blacktop.
“Absolutely. Winning at Eldora was huge, but being a dirt guy that was kind of expected, right?,” Friesen said Thursday (Nov. 14) at Championship 4 Media Day. “So we got the monkey off our back, got the big win at [ISM Raceway] last week. It was definitely timely, gave the team a lot of morale ‑‑ actually, I should say raised the team morale and all the guys are holding their heads a little higher this week in the shop and hopefully we can ride some of that momentum into tomorrow night.”
The win came after a series of near misses on pavement. Likely the best example was the Digital Ally 250 at Kansas Speedway back in May. Friesen dominated that race, but ran out of fuel with three laps to go after leading 87 laps. He finished 15th that night and went home with unfinished business.
Before he broke through to score his first career victory at Eldora in August, Friesen had finished second six separate times over the previous two years and scored 19 top five finishes. The waiting was frustrating.
“It’s tough, it tests your mental capability and it was really tough,” Friesen said. “We had so many races the last two years that just kind of slipped away. And it wasn’t for lack of effort or lack of trying, it was just, things happen. I would make mistakes, we made mistakes as a team, and it was tough. So even beginning of that race last week, having the penalty to start last and having to come from the back definitely tested my mental toughness and Rick Crowley is a great spotter, Tripp Bruce is a great crew chief and having those guys on the radio, just kind of, it was like, Okay, we’re not out of this, we have a good truck, we had a great practice, good qualifying run. And we leaned on that and went back to work and were able to pick them back off. So it was awesome to finally win that race last week, even having to have some adversity, I think that made it even more special.”
In Homestead-Miami Speedway, you have a venue that does favor a driver with substantial experience turning right to go left. The track surface in Homestead dates back to 2003 when the track was reconfigured from a flat oval with six degrees of banking to the current progressive banking of 18-20 degrees. It can be slippery at the best of times. Tire wear can also be quite substantial.
Friesen believes that his dirt racing experience will help quite a bit.
“I hope it helps out a lot,” Friesen said. “It’s a slick racetrack and there will be a lot of fall off with the tires. You go from running a wide‑open lap to half throttle over a 10‑lap run, there’s about a two and a half seconds of fall off. So I’m excited about that and hopefully that plays into our advantage a little bit.”
Having that in his corner makes Friesen feel good about Friday’s Ford EcoBoost 200. Bringing home the championship Friday night could ultimately put a bigger spotlight on those competing on dirt. Could we see drivers like this year’s Super DIRTcar Series champion and NAPA Auto Parts 200 winner Mat Williamson in NASCAR in the future? Who knows? Could veteran drivers like Matt Sheppard show up at the Eldora Dirt Derby and surprise people like Mike Marlar did this year? That could happen.
GMS Racing already recognizes that. Earlier this week, they signed World of Outlaws NoS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series driver David Gravel to a deal that will see him race part-time in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series in 2020.
Prior to racing in the trucks, Friesen was best known for racing in the Super DIRTcar Series, the premiere series for Northeast-style Big Block Modifieds (as opposed to UMP Modifieds, which are the dirt Modifieds raced in the Midwest). Many of the drivers he raced against there are legends in their own right, if only regionally, like Brett Hearn. Others are up-and-coming future stars, like Max McLaughlin, who made his Gander Outdoors Truck Series debut at Eldora last year in a third truck for Niece Motorsports.
That said, being what amounts to the poster child for Big Block Modified racing on a national scale doesn’t really equate to any real pressure for Friesen.
“It’s big, [but] it’s cool though,” Friesen explained. ” It’s not like a lot of pressure, but it’s cool, it’s meaningful, it’s something that I appreciate.”
For Homestead, Friesen will turn to a familiar ally for this weekend. The team will race the same truck that they’ve used at most of the intermediate tracks this season. According to Friesen, the truck has been to the wind tunnel a handful of times (including just after Labor Day) and is considered to be a proven piece. If he can bring home the title Friday night, not only will he make himself very happy, but a legion of dirt racing fans in the Northeast will be overjoyed.