Balancing Act: Stewart Friesen runs full dirt menu as NASCAR truck playoffs loom

Unlike some NASCAR drivers, Stewart Friesen has never put his passion for dirt racing on hold.

While competing full-time in the Camping World Truck Series on the weekends for the last five seasons, the 38-year-old from Niagara-on-thel-Lake, Ontario, who now calls Sprakers, N.Y. home, is also currently leading the Super DIRTcar Series standings with a 56-point advantage over Matt Sheppard.

Friesen continues to dazzle on dirt whenever he gets the chance and Wednesday night’s romp at Land of the Legends Raceway was no exception.

In his second of six races scheduled for this week—and his first time behind the wheel of a Big Block Modified at the half-mile track in Canandaigua, N.Y., since 2005—Friesen won Feature No. 2 of the Twin 60-lapper.

“This has been a tough track for us,” said Friesen, who came from 11th to finish seventh in the first twin. “I got a couple Big Block wins in 2005. The Madsens were about to fire me I think but then I got two wins in late August. But we haven’t really had a good package for this place. We threw a bunch of stuff at it tonight and after Hot Laps it was good.”

The Land of Legends victory is the fourth tour win in 2021 for the defending Super DirtCar champion. On Friday, Friesen looks to defend his Modified feature wins at Home of Heroes at Utica-Rome (NY) Speedway. Saturday afternoon Friesen climbs back into the No. 52 Halmar International Toyota Tundra at Watkins Glen before he heads up the road to race his modified at Fonda Speedway that evening. He’ll cap off the weekend with the Battle at the Bowl at Devil’s Bowl Speedway in West Haven, Vermont.

But Friesen has a lot on the line this Saturday when the NASCAR trucks return to the iconic 2.45-mile course at Watkins Glen for the first time since 2000. The United Rentals 175 at the Glen is the final race prior to the truck Playoffs. Friesen is currently ninth on the Playoff grid, 53 points above the cut-off.

“I think everybody’s kind of been up on it these last few weeks with how Knoxville went,” said Friesen, who finished 27th in the truck debut at the Sprint Car Capital of the World. “Hopefully, we have a little bit of a smoother event, and we can use some of our road race speed that we had with the Halmar team at COTA and at Daytona and kind of showcase that and run in the top-10 and top-five.

“We need to have a good run and not get knocked out early. We will see what happens. The last couple of truck races have been pretty wild, pretty exciting, especially on road courses, so we will see how that goes.”

Friesen’s two truck wins came at shorter tracks—Eldora Speedway and Phoenix Raceway. The driver posted decent finishes on road courses earlier this season. Friesen was 11th on the Daytona Road Course. He finished 17th in the truck series’ Circuit of the Americas debut.

Saturday’s field should be fairly even since none of the competitors have ever raced a truck at the Glen.

“We wish we had a win to be sitting on right now to guarantee a spot in,” Friesen said. “We have a little bit of a buffer zone points-wise unless we have a bad day and a new winner behind us in points can jump up there and knock us out. We need to have a good and use the road course speed that we had at Daytona. I think we had the third-fastest lap time back at COTA a couple of months ago.

“We have speed in the truck. It’s the same piece that we ran at the last two or three road races. Hopefully, we can use that, stay up in the hunt and have a good day and a good finish. Then the points will take care of themselves after that.”

Racing continues to be a family affair for the Friesens. Stewart met his wife Jessica Zemken at the track and the two racers were married in 2014. Jessica had to put her racing on hold once son Parker was born and the couple discovered he was on the autism spectrum. Through applied behavior analysis therapy at the Crossroads Center for Children in Schenectady, N.Y., Parker has made remarkable gains.

A new sense of normalcy for the couple has enabled Jessica to return to the track in more than a support role. Although she was expected to make her NASCAR debut in the Bristol Dirt race, qualifying was rained out. However, last month, the couple competed against each other at Knoxville and she finished 26th—one position ahead of her husband. Friesen is grateful to have his wife on the track.

“Absolutely, and the results have followed,” he said. “She’s got two wins on the season. One at Utica, another one at Fonda a couple of weeks ago, which was the day after we drove back from Knoxville.

“It’s been pretty cool. Parker has been doing great. He will start Kindergarten in a few weeks here and we are excited for that. It will be a little bit of a change to our schedule being racers and being up all the time. We are going to have to turn around and start getting to bed earlier for school nights. That’s something he’s looking forward too, and Jess and I are as well.”

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