Ah, good ol’ Bristol.
“It’s the Last Great Colosseum,” said driver Tyler Ankrum as part of a recent NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series online promotional video.
“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like Bristol,” added 2018 regular-season champion Johnny Sauter, while driver Ross Chastain described the famous Tennessee short track as “like getting into a cage with a cheetah.”
Canadian Stewart Friesen has never been in a cage with an actual cheetah, so he admittedly can’t compare the two. But the 36-year-old native of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., did recall the 2018 truck series race at Bristol, where he capitalized on his final opportunity to qualify for the series’ Chase to the Championship playoffs by finishing second, “was pretty wild.”
That regular-season finale in 2018 featured a whole lot of “bumping and grinding” and last week’s outing at the World’s Fastest Half Mile was hardly for the faint at heart either.
During the race, which this season served as the Chase to the Championship opener, playoff drivers Friesen and Matt Crafton made contact, Friesen wound up in the wall with damage and both drivers found themselves in a bit of a post-race tizzy.
“I felt like he didn’t need to get us turned around. He could have checked up a little bit,” said Friesen, who finished fourth despite the setback. “His side of it was that he’d given me a break a couple laps before that. It was just hard racing, and finally, push came to shove, we got turned around. But my guys pieced it back together as soon as we could and we got back out there and ended up passing him clean, which was redemption for us.”
It’s a fighter’s mentality that has served Friesen well throughout his fourth season in the top North American truck series. The series’ lone full-time Canadian competitor, who drives his No. 52 Halmar Friesen Racing Chevrolet Silverado into Canadian Tire Motorsports Park near Bowmanville for this weekend’s Chevrolet Silverado 250, has been a model of consistency, posting 10 top-10 finishes, including five top-fives in his final seven races, to close out the regular season in third place.
Friesen’s biggest result of the season was also the most memorable of his career. He claimed his first career NASCAR truck victory on Aug. 1 at Eldora Speedway in Ohio.
“It’s been such a battle since we started into the truck series a couple years ago … having so many close runs and so many races that got away,” Friesen said. “To finally get it done at Eldora, which started our whole career in the truck series (in 2016), it was just really special and really fitting for us. To add icing on the cake, it locked us into the playoffs at a time we were fighting to get in. Just an excellent way to get our first win.”
The victory closed out a chapter of close calls for Friesen that included six runner-up finishes over the past three seasons, including two earlier this year. He finished second behind Kyle Busch at Texas Motor Speedway in March and likewise to Ankrum at Kentucky Speedway in July.
“Wins in any type of racing are tough. You have to have a perfect race and then have a lot of luck on top of that,” Friesen said. “We’d have fast trucks and have races that we thought were well in hand and then have something crazy happens to take us out of it. Whether it was a mistake I made, or a mistake on Pit Road, it just seemed like we were writing the book on how to lose a race.”
Friesen will try to keep the good vibes going at CTMP, site of the only NASCAR playoff race outside of the U.S. This weekend’s race is the second of seven playoff rounds.
It will mark Friesen’s second career start at the Canadian road course, having finished seventh there last August.
“That one race makes me feel like almost a road-course ringer,” Friesen said. “Having that whole race under our belt and everything that went along with it, I feel like we’re coming in with a big notebook and a lot of experience now.”
Lachenaie, Que.’s Alex Tagliani will drive on a one-off for Kyle Busch Motorsports in the 64-lap, 10-turn, 3.957-km truck race and will also compete in the NASCAR Pinty’s Series race as part of the weekend festivities. Other support series running in Bowmanville include the Canadian Touring Car Championship, Nissan Micra Cup and Toyo Tires F1600 Championship. The feature truck race goes Sunday.
It’s been a career season for Stewart Friesen, but there is unfinished business.
“We obviously have championship goals,” said Friesen, a native of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., who recently qualified for his second consecutive Chase for the Championship in the NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series.
The format sees the eight top regular-season finishers qualify for the Chase playoffs, which includes three three-round segments leading into the finale at Miami in November.
A solid showing on home soil would go a long way in helping Friesen’s cause.
“To come home and see all those race fans face to face, along with a lot of family and friends, it’s just a really special event for me personally,” said Friesen, who now lives in Sprakers, N.Y., about 45 minutes west of Albany.
Friesen enters his home race as one of the series’ most consistent drivers this season, something the Halmar Friesen Racing driver of the No. 52 Chevrolet Silverado credits to experience.
“Having a notebook, understanding the mechanics of the truck, being able to help the crew chief on steering the truck in the right direction as far as setup and handling, I have a lot more experience with that now, and the strategy of these races and how they unfold,” he said. “Just being at these tracks for a second or third time has helped me a ton with results and having speed.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019