Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – PORT ROYAL, PA – Two Brett Deyo-promoted $50,000-to-win races were held during the 2021 racing season but just one driver was able to endorse both checks. That driver was Stewart Friesen.
Back in the month of September, Friesen captured the $53,000 Fonda 200 at the Fonda Speedway. On Saturday night, he nailed down another $50K when he took the checkers in the Speed Showcase 200 at the Port Royal Speedway.
Throughout the weekend at the Speed Palace, the Friesen team had their share of problems. Stewart charged from deep in the field, 21st, on Thursday night in the Speed Showcase 40 Short Track Super Series event only to have a mechanical failure while running seventh.
He rebounded on Friday night in his 20-lap qualifying race, working his way from 10th to fourth at the end which put him 15th on the starting grid for the big 200-lap affair.
With all of that, did Friesen still feel like he had a car that could compete for the victory on Saturday night?
“I really wasn’t sure,” Friesen said. “I knew our car was plenty fast enough, but luck just wasn’t on our side. We broke a lot of stuff that we really never break and our team just dug deep and worked extremely hard.”
The team also had a multitude issues with Friesen’s wife’s car throughout the week. A driveline issue in Jessica’s car on Thursday night’s last chance qualifier started things and then another problem in the driveline in Friday night’s heat race.
The team made a complete rebuild of the driveline in the #1z for Jessica which included a new transmission and Jess made the 200-lapper through Saturday’s Last Chance Qualifier.
“Tommy (Conroy) and the entire crew dug in and got Jess in the show tonight,” he said. “That was pretty cool and they made this 44 just bad to the bone tonight.”
By the lap 75 mark, Friesen took the lead from Matt Sheppard after a spirited battle for nearly 20 laps. He would hold that lead until the halfway break where several teams elected to stay out.
Friesen and Sheppard and a handful of others came in to take on fuel, possible tire changes and make further adjustments. On the restart, though, they were forced to start behind those drivers that didn’t.
Friesen started the second 100 in 13th and was set on kill from the drop of the green.
“Getting back up through the field and being able to set my pace not to burn off my tires was key for us,” he said. “They did get hot a couple of times but then we got a couple of timely cautions which cooled them back off. It just seemed to work out.”
Did Friesen know his strategy would pan out?
“Last year, we short-pitted this race,” he said. “We short-pitted Fonda last month but this time, we figured we’d run to halfway and try to keep the freshest tires we could on it. I knew Sheppard had pitted and freshened his stuff up and I was pretty worried about that. I’m glad it wasn’t a 205-lap race.”
Friesen had plenty of reason to worry about Sheppard. The driver of the 9s was running toe-to-toe with the eventual winner for most of the race. Then came the halfway break and Sheppard made wholesale changes.
Did they work?
“We made a lot of mistakes at the halfway break,” Sheppard said. “We wanted to make a few little changes on the car to make it better and I think everything we did made it worse. We spent the next 100 (laps) trying to fix it.”
In fact, Sheppard brought out a caution with 50 laps remaining and made his way to the pit area for adjustments. He then had to start at the rear of the field but worked his way back through.
“We decided we were going to put some fresh tires on it and roll the dice,” he said. “I think maybe we would have had a shot. I got messing around with Tim Fuller for what seemed like an eternity. It just took me a long time to get by him.”
Is that a point Sheppard wishes he’d had back?
“We lost a lot of laps right there with Fuller,” he said. “I would have liked to have been up front and gotten to second a little quicker. I think if we had gotten a few more green flag laps, maybe we could have out-tired him (Friesen) a bit but hats off to him. This has been his season.”
For third-place finisher Matt Stangle, he was very happy with a podium finish in the 200.
“Our Teo Pro Car was great tonight,” Stangle said. “The first half of the race we weren’t the greatest, though. We dropped pretty hard and we were originally going to pit earlier in the race, but I knew I needed to get some track position to try and set myself up for the second half.”
Where did Stangle feel his car was lacking compared to the top two?
“When Stewie got out front, I was trying to follow him,” he said. “I was trying to do what he was doing but just couldn’t stay with him. Friesen and Sheppard are both the best. I just couldn’t stay with them tonight.”