Column By: BOBBY CHALMERS / RPW – MIDDLETOWN, NY – With six laps to go in Sunday’s Eastern States 200 at Orange County, you could physically see the air leaving the sails of Stewart Friesen and his team as it trickled out of his flat left front tire.
However, Friesen still gave his all, trying to score the victory.
Friesen was poised to endorse the big $40,000 top prize check but had to watch Matt Sheppard drive around him in the closing laps.
The #44 clipped the inside wall off of turn two, bending the outer bead of the wheel which caused the flat and took away any shot of victory for the Sprakers, NY driver.
“I definitely nipped the wall and made the tire go flat,” Friesen said. “I was just trying too hard. Matt (Sheppard) was turning up the heat.”
For the first two nights, lap traffic was a hindrance for Sheppard to get the win. On this day it helped, but unfortunately, at the expense of Friesen.
“I was trying too hard to get by the lap cars,” he said. “I got by a couple clean and then got to one dude and couldn’t figure out where he was going to go.”
That sent Friesen searching for a way by which ended up costing him.
“I kind of thought I could roll the top or middle there in three in four,” he said. “That didn’t work and then tried it again in one and two and got a weird angle. I tried to square it up and get on the bottom of turn two, but again, got a weird angle and clipped the jersey barrier.”
That was it for Friesen’s chances at victory.
“When I flattened the tire, that was kind of it for us,” he said. “Then, Matt got by me and he had the same trouble with the same guys. It was just unfortunate.”
Sunday was an eventful day for Stewart who never sat in his Big Block on the slippery Middletown track conditions until Sunday morning. He won the heat race and started 37th in the main event.
However, through pit strategy and some well placed passes, Friesen grabbed the lead from Rick Laubach on a lap 78 restart and looked to be on his way until he was passed by Sheppard with six laps remaining.
“Big thanks to all of my guys,” he said. “We’ve got just a great race team here. To battle as hard as we did after starting as far back as we did, I’m proud of the whole Halmar team. I had a really great race car and it was the best we’ve had here all year.”
Luck wasn’t on Friesen’s side late in the race and he knew it.
“We just didn’t get the breaks we needed in traffic,” he said. “We’d catch lap traffic and the caution would come out, again and again. We were able to beat Matt on the restarts which I was kind of surprised about because he’s been so dominant. That’s it.”
You could see the dejection in Friesen. Even though he tried to put a smile on his face, after losing out on making it to the Championship 4 race at Phoenix with his NASCAR Truck Series team, he wanted this one bad.
“We just lost another big one, again,” he said. “We’ve got a great race car here and made a lot of gains in the speed department. We just need a couple more bounces to go our way. I’m ready for this season to be over and turn the page to next year.”