NASCAR Truck Series star from Niagara-on-the-Lake comes north for playoff race
Canada's Stewart Friesen has made big strides since adding full-time racing duties in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series to his already busy calendar.
His next stop on the circuit will be a playoff race in his home country.
Friesen will be a headliner at Sunday's Chevrolet Silverado 250 at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ont. It's the opener in the Chase to the Championship, a seven-race schedule that ends with the mid-November finale in Miami.
Friesen, a native of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., has flourished on the Super DIRTcar Series and is enjoying a breakthrough season on the Truck Series.
He finished second to standings leader Johnny Sauter at last week's UNOH 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway to secure fifth place in the overall point standings, comfortably making the eight-driver Chase cut.
"I'm kind of like an oddball because I came out of being a professional racecar driver already, making a decent living, and started in it late," he said. "It's been pretty cool because we've brought a big fan base from the northeast."
Friesen, 35, drove go-karts as a youngster and began his dirt racing career in 1999. He became a regular on the dirt modified circuit after earning a science degree at the University of Windsor in 2007.
"I've been racing as long as I can remember," Friesen said from his home base of Sprakers, N.Y.
He has more than 260 victories in his dirt racing career and finished second in Super DIRTcar Series points in 2016. His NASCAR Truck Series debut came that year at Eldora Speedway, the circuit's only race on dirt.
Friesen's skill-set, honed from driving 800-horsepower big-block modifieds, has served him well on the Truck Series, where he partnered with Chris Larsen to create Halmar Friesen Racing.
"We kind of branched off into this NASCAR truck deal, now everything is rolling good," he said. "We've had some great success with it. I'm still running the dirt cars as much as I can. So we definitely stay busy."
Had 3 runner-up finishes
Friesen wrapped up the regular season with 2,012 points. Three runner-up finishes among 11 top-10 finishes helped pad his total.
"We're nailing setups when we unload in practice and stuff, that's been the biggest thing," Friesen said. "We just haven't had a lot of luck. We led a lot of laps at Michigan (earlier this month) and then had a penalty in the pits kind of take the race away from us.
"So we've had that happen a couple times this year. It's kept us out of victory lane but we've definitely had the speed all year long."
The Bowmanville stop will be the first time in Truck Series history that a playoff race will be held at an international track. Friesen is the first Canadian to qualify for the playoffs.
"Even though we haven't had a win yet, we've been in the top five quite often and had a lot of speed," he said. "That's been the biggest thing, just getting the right parts and people together."
Friesen has maintained a routine of participating in modified races through the summer — many are mid-week — and then hitting Truck Series stops on the weekend. If the timing works, he'll even squeeze in two races on the same day.
"Everything is seamless," he said. "I have a lot of great friends that I get to go modified racing with that'll take care of stuff when I'm away doing the truck deal. We're able to jump back and forth because of a great support group."
Sauter, the 2016 series champion, leads a top five that includes Brett Moffitt, Noah Gragson and Ben Rhodes. Grant Enfinger, Justin Haley and Matt Crafton also are in the playoff field.
Friesen had a pair of top-five finishes last season and was 14th in points over 19 starts. He had seven top-five results this season and is hopeful that elusive victory is coming soon.
"We're definitely capable of winning a race, it's just been one of those things where we haven't really gotten the breaks late in races to close the deal," he said. "We've won a bunch of stages and led a bunch of laps all year and just can't seem to close it out.
"So if we have a smooth day with no penalties and everything goes our way, I think we're capable of a win at any of the tracks. Canadian Tire is a wild card as I'm pretty light on road racing experience, but I'm pretty confident in the truck we'll bring."