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Friesen Adds To Upstate New York Legacy

By JASON CUNNINGHAM (NASCAR)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Stewart Friesen is no stranger to historical feats. If your name is ahead of NASCAR Hall of Famer Richie Evans on any list, you’ve had a remarkable career.

The all-time feature wins leader in Utica-Rome Speedway’s famous history added yet another feather in his cap in 2014 when he captured the seventh track championship of his still-young career.

Friesen, from Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, posted seven wins and 18 top fives in the 358 Modified division at Utica-Rome to edge Matt Sheppard by 10 points in what was his fifth-consecutive title campaign.

This one was not like the others, however. It was his first Utica-Rome title under the NASCAR banner. And it also netted his first career NASCAR Whelen All-American Series New York state crown.

Utica-Rome has a storied history with NASCAR, but the half-mile dirt oval in Vernon, New York, hadn’t been sanctioned by the governing body since 1998. The track’s return to NASCAR in 2014 provided a fresh perspective for Friesen.

“The national recognition racing under the NASCAR banner was pretty awesome,” Friesen. “And there was a little added incentive in racing up to the New York state title too.”

Although he had another Utica-Rome title in hand, Friesen figured he was going to have to settle for second place in state standings until it was suggested he could run on the last Sunday of Airborne Park Speedway’s NASCAR points season and make one last push. He was able to secure a ride and registered an eighth place finish at the Plattsburgh, New York, asphalt oval, which was enough to take home the NASCAR state title by nine points over Airborne track champ Nick Heywood.

The first milestone the 31-year-old Friesen reached in 2014 came on June 30 when he notched career feature win No. 50 at Utica-Rome. He passed previous track record-holder Dale Planck’s total of 42 toward the end of the 2013 season. The late Evans’ 33 wins from the asphalt era still rank third on Utica Rome’s list.

“To be up there with those guys is a tremendous accomplishment, and it’s something that our team is very, very proud of,” Friesen said.

Modified legends Evans and Jerry Cook, a NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee, both hailed from nearby Rome and called Utica-Rome their home track. Their impact is still at the forefront of weekly competition at the facility.

“They fly the [Evans] orange No. 61 flag in the infield there every week, there’s the big Richie Evans event there every year, and obviously they do stuff to recognize Jerry Cook as well,” Friesen said. “It’s a very historic track.”

Friesen’s 2014 success came behind the wheel of his No. 1 Westmoreland Golf Club Chevrolet, which is owned by Tom Cullen and led by crew chief Loren Ward. Erick Mack and Mike Thurston were also integral parts of the championship team, which received associate sponsorship from C.C. Performance Engines, Teo Pro Car and Fox Shocks.

Friesen’s team remains intact and ready to continue the run of championship in 2015.

“We’ll be back at Utica-Rome every week, just trying to keep on going,” Friesen said. “We’ve got a great team, everybody is still together and morale is high, and we’re going to try and come out and defend the best we can.”