Six-year Camping World Truck Series veteran Stewart Friesen is currently below the cut line as the team heads to Martinsville Speedway, only four points behind Sheldon Creed in fourth place.
He’s made it into the Championship 4 just once in his career two years ago in 2019 with the help of a win at Phoenix. Friesen competed at Homestead (the original site of the Championship 4) and finished 11th. While not locked in at the moment, the Ontario native knows a stage win or two could change the outlook of things throughout the race.
Through the first two rounds of the 2021 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series playoffs, at least one or two drivers have been able to lock themselves into the next round with a win. Creed was able to do so at Darlington in the opening race, while Chandler Smith did so at the Bristol race last month. Smith’s teammate, John Hunter Nemechek, was extremely close to punching his ticket into the Championship 4 at Talladega but ended up getting wrecked coming to the finish line and was relegated to a fourth-place finish.
Since the Bristol race last September, no one has locked themselves into the season finale at Phoenix International Raceway which takes place Friday, Nov. 6, and will air live on Fox Sports 1. And with no one currently locked in, this leaves a wide variety of scenarios entering the Martinsville race Saturday as drivers attempt to climb above the cut line and claim a spot in the Championship 4 at Phoenix Raceway.
While Friesen would love to win, he also realizes the importance of earning stage points throughout the race and feels his team is up to the challenge.
“I say top-fives pay the bills, but we need to be in the top-fives in stages, if not win a stage to make maximum stage points and have a shot to win,” Friesen said about his chances. “The Playoffs are all about running up front and winning. We’ve been in the top five. We’ve been close, so hopefully, if we could get a win that would be awesome. I believe in our team. I don’t believe we have an outside shot. I believe we will have a fast enough truck to compete with our competitors in the chase, and nothing is out of the question at this point.”
Having made the Championship 4 once in his career, Friesen is not too worried about how things will shape out during the race and is focused on his own performance. The Halmar Friesen Racing driver knows he’ll have to be patient throughout the 200-lap event.
“I’ve been through it. I’m not losing sleep over it yet,” Friesen added. “Maybe Friday night a little bit. Anything can happen in the Truck Series. I’ve lost races in the 11th hour. I’m optimistic. I think I can go in there and just try to keep my emotion in check all race long and not get excited if something happens in the first or second stage and then we have to kind of drop the plow at the end and start putting the elbows up. That’s what we will try to do. I believe we can bring a fast truck. We had a fast truck there in the fall last year. We were able to win a stage, and we will have a similar package – which I think we even refined to be better yet. I hope we will be fast enough to stay up front and keep guys off of my back bumper. That’s going to be the main thing.”
Friesen has no wins in the 2021 Truck Series season and says nothing would be sweeter than changing that with another shot at the championship.
“It would be very gratifying,” Friesen added about making the Championship 4. “Not only for me but our entire race team. For where we were from the start of 2020, starting the new team from the ground up with Halmar, with the support from TRD and the guys from Toyota to where we are now – since the Playoffs have started competing for top-fives. Building a championship-winning team was the goal all along and we knew it would take time, so I think we are probably ahead of realistically the time it takes to build a championship team.
“We’ve done a really good job. Our guys have done a really good job. Chris Larsen with providing the equipment to do this. We knew where we wanted to be and we are there, and for us to make that Championship 4 this year in our second full season would be really, really gratifying. If we don’t, it is what it is. As long as we go to Martinsville and have a solid truck and don’t shoot ourselves in the foot – if we put our cards on the table and it is what it is at the end of the day and we don’t make it, hey, at least we went down trying and we will be back in 2022 to try again. If we do make that Championship 4, we are really excited about that. We have a good package for Phoenix. We have good notes for Martinsville and Phoenix. I believe we have an outside shot at the championship, so we will see what happens.”
Currently, in the 2021 Truck Series, the Ontario native has zero wins, six top fives and eight Top 10 finishes along with four DNFs. In addition, Friesen has led 15 laps and has an average finish of 15.0.
Other notes of interest: Friesen is currently scheduled to test the NASCAR NextGen car at Wythe Raceway, which is similar to the Bristol Dirt Track and he will be testing a harder tire.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ penultimate race at Martinsville Speedway is slated for Saturday, Oct. 30 at 1 p.m. ET, live on Fox Sports 1 and MRN Radio.
Playoff Standings with 1 race to go in the Round of 6.
- John Hunter Nemechek, +34
- Ben Rhodes, +34
- Matt Crafton, +27
- Sheldon Creed, +4
Below the cut line
- Stewart Friesen, -4
- Chandler Smith, -33
- Carson Hocevar, -36
- Zane Smith, -39