By KEN BRUCE
SWEDESBORO, NJ – Stewart Friesen is a Canadian born Modified driver who now calls Upstate New York home, but after the way things have gone in 2017, he might want to think about making Bridgeport Speedway in New Jersey his new home track after taking yet another big win on Sunday. Friesen took the lead on lap 30 from a strong running Mike Barone and went to capture the 40 lap “South Jersey Shootout,” the second race on the Short Track Super Series South region sponsored by Velocita. The win was also Friesen’s STSS leading eighth career victory.
The day didn’t start out on a good note for the full-time NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver as he pulled the highest possible number in the pre-race pill draw for the second time this season forcing him to start last in heat race number four. Due to the daytime track conditions, Friesen knew it would be a chore to even get into a qualifying spot in his heat race yet alone a redraw position from his tenth starting position. Friesen put all that to rest early on when he blasted into fifth to put himself into a qualified spot and by lap eight Friesen was into third to put himself into the redraw for the feature. Some drivers would have been satisfied at that point to just take it easy and stay in third but not this driver. Friesen would continue his onslaught to the front and just came up a half a car short of passing Sammy Martz to win the heat. It was an amazing qualifying run and just a preview of things to come.
When Friesen drew the number two starting spot for the feature many considered it a done deal that he would immediately take the lead at the drop of starter Warren Alston’s green flag and off he would go off into the sunset. However, pole sitter Mike Barone had other ideas and took the lead from the start. He led the first 30 laps before Friesen was able to slip by him in traffic to take the lead just as the caution flag was displayed. On the restart, it was all Friesen as he stretched his lead to almost a straightaway before taking the checkered flag. Friesen and his Halmar International Racing team would go on to take home an excess of over $5000 for their day’s efforts.
It wasn’t easy for Friesen as he dropped back to fourth in the opening laps before finally getting his DKM chassis modified working up to his liking.
“We have a really good package in this car. The boys gave me a great DKM chassis and the Billy the Kid motor ran flawlessly all day. I was worried a little early on that we went with too hard of a tire bit it ended up working out in the long run. Man, when (Mike) Barone took off at the start I was like wow, I’m not sure we played our cards right but when he got to traffic and the track started to take a little rubber. I was a little concerned there when we dropped back to fourth. The top was just a little too greasy at that point and I let a couple of guys get under me, but once I was able to get to the bottom and get some heat in the tires it was good.”
The middle of the race it seemed like Friesen wasn’t gaining any ground on the quick running Barone and the crowd was wondering if Friesen was just biding his time or was there a major upset in the works here.
“I was trying to take it a little easy on the tires there for a little bit. I drove balls out last night at Fonda (Friesen led the first 45 laps) and had a tire blow out with five laps to go so I just wanted to take it easy here for a bit and just let it play out and luckily it all worked out for us tonight.”
The win at Bridgeport was the fourth of Friesen’s career and his second of the season there. Although Friesen has won most of his 258 career wins up north in New York, he really enjoys his visits to Bridgeport and the other tracks on the STSS South tour.
“I really love the racing down here; the New York stuff is fun and different but these tracks are so fun and there is so much history down here. It seems like the New York tracks have much more changeover which is cool and awesome but it’s fun coming down to these old places too. The tracks down here are really racy and the job Keith (Hoffman), Danny (Serrano), Dave (Adams) and the Ramey family do is just awesome. They all work really hard here. This used to be a track that rubbered up on six or seven laps and now it’s a lot of fun to run here. It’s big and fast and I just love to come down here.”
BOUC BUCKS UP FOR RUNNER-UP FINISH
The start to the 2017 season has not been kind to Danny Bouc and his Mike Bent owned #88. The team has shown flashes of speed in the early portion of the year but mechanical woes have kept the team from having a good finish.
Coming into Sunday’s race Bouc and his team had just wanted to see if they were able to rid themselves of some of the gremlins that have plagued the team early on. Entering the race with a spec small block built out of the Bouc’s families shop, Bouc wasn’t sure he could hang with the other teams and their expensive big blocks and open small blocks. Qualifying and finishing the race were the goals of the team going in to the day’s events. After a strong heat race in which Bouc finished in second the team had achieved one of its goals for the night. Starting 10th in the feature event Bouc was hoping he could just hang in there for the whole race and finish in the top ten.
Once the race started, Bouc did just that and a whole lot more. Bouc easily maintained his top ten standing through the beginning of the race and as the track started to dry out and slick up a little Bouc’s spec engine started to show its power and by lap 30 Bouc had his #88 sitting right outside the top five in sixth.
On the restart, while the other drivers were concerning themselves with each other in the lower groove Bouc made a bold move and drove right around the outside of them into the second spot before the next lap could be scored.
“I tried the same move on the restart before that and it worked, but the track was just a little too heavy yet and the big-blocks went rolling back by me. The last restart I was stuck on the outside again and it played out for me this time. Everyone that knows me knows that I like to wing it around the high side and that combination wasn’t meant for me early tonight but on the last restart it worked and I was able to get by them and back down to the inside before they could get a run on me.”
Bouc had nothing for the winner Friesen and settled for second. With the way the season has gone for the young driver it felt like a win to him.
“Man, did we need this for sure. This car was so good tonight. I didn’t have any straightaway speed so I’m sure a couple of guys are pissed off at me, but I knew once it slicked off it was going to be way better than it was in the beginning. Mike Bent owns this car and this is just awesome for him. We know this car is fast but me and him just have had a black cloud over our heads this season when it comes to racing and it’s awesome to finally have a good run for him.”
BARONE FINSHES THIRD; ALMOST STEALS THE SHOW
Bridgeport regular Mike Barone has shown flashes of speed all throughout his career at Bridgeport Speedway and this year has been no exception. Barone had a strong run early in the season with a top five finish and today during the running of the “South Jersey Shootout” was able to duplicate that feat.
Barone was fast right from the get go winning his heat by a large margin over Duane Howard. With the luck of the draw, Barone ended up picking the number one starting spot with eventual winner Stewart Friesen directly alongside of him. Most fans figured Friesen would make quick work of Barone and take off into the lead but Barone had none of that and surprised everyone by grabbing the lead and pulling away while the other drivers fought for position behind him.
Barone continued to lead the field throughout a couple of caution flags and for a while it looked like a major upset was in the making. Not that Barone is not a good driver, but his equipment is just not as good as most of the drivers in the field. Barone’s team is a family operation with him and his father doing the bulk of the work on their Bicknell Chassis.
Even though Barone was happy to finish third, you could still see the disappointment on his face as he stood by his modified behind the grandstands as the fans all came up to congratulate him.
“This car, since we put it together over the winter has just clicked. It’s a tough deal to lead 30 laps and get passed but that’s Stewie. He is one of the best right now and to be racing with him and everyone else out here it just honestly just an amazing feeling. We put a lot of work into this car during the week in the garage. It’s just me and my dad that do most of the work on the car in our little two car garage. To get a third-place finish with the quality of drivers here today in unbelievable.”
41 Modifieds signed in for the night’s action with Barone, Matt Jester, Billy Pauch Sr and Sammy Martz won the heats with Jordan Watson and Dominick Buffalino winning the pair of consolations races. Provisional starting spots were given to Watt, Mills and Hendrickson….
The lineup for the first consolation race was worthy of being a feature event starting field for most tracks with the likes of Jordan Watson, Rick Laubach, Ryan Watt, Jamie Mills, Brett Hearn and Danny Johnson all having to run in it. With only two cars making the feature event (Watson & Laubach) stars like Watt, Mills, Hearn and Johnson were done for the night. Watt and Mills were each given a provisional for being in the top ten of the South region points….
It was a tough day for the Pauch family. What looked like it was going to be a good day for both Billy Pauch Sr and Billy Pauch Jr took a turn for the worse before a lap could be completed in the feature event. Pauch Jr had a driveshaft go bad as the field was doing their pace laps before the start. As disappointing as it was for Pauch Jr to have a DNF and not even take the green flag, it’s better than to have happened at that time instead of it happening while the car was at speed. Pauch Sr, who looked strong while winning his heat race, didn’t fare much better as he and Duane Howard tangled on lap one when Howard slowed down to avoid a car. Pauch Sr had nowhere to go and plowed into the back of the 357 causing a red flag to be thrown to give the crews time to untangle the two cars. Both cars were towed in and both returned to the field. Neither car was a factor after that although Howard did manage a 12th place finish…
Jimmy Horton finished in the 6th position to retain his points lead in the Velocita STSS South Region.
Tyler Dippel made the trip north after competing in the NASCAR K&N East Series race in Bristol, TN on Saturday. Dippel finished 13th in the rain shortened race….
Big-block motors were the motor of choice for most of the teams on the day. Four of the top five finishers were all running their big-block powerplants….
As always, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @dirtracefan25 for any questions or comments.