A native of Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Friesen had finished second six times before getting a win.
“Thank you to all the race fans that stuck with us, that pulled for us, everybody that came by the dirt modified hauler and said ‘Man, I thought this was the week,'” Friesen told FS1. “Today, this is the day and today this is the week.”
Friesen made his series debut in the 2016 Eldora race. He started from the pole in the 2017 race and led 93 laps before finishing second. He placed third last season.
“This was meant to be,” Friesen said. “We needed to get it done on the dirt. We missed the last two years. What a special event. … These guys have been down and out, down and out and they keep bustin’ their butts for me and fixing stuff and fixing stuff. Putting in such long hours. I can’t thank everybody enough.”
After starting first due to winning the first qualifying race, defending Eldora winner Chase Briscoe did not give up the lead until he pit during second stage break. He was then involved in two accidents before managing to get back to third in time for a restart with 12 laps to go. He then spun with nine laps to go to help bring out another caution.
Briscoe finished seventh.
Friesen assumed the lead from Briscoe when he and Matt Crafton pit during the stage break. Friesen elected to stay out and for it after his crew chief had told him to pit. Friesen led the final 57 laps.
Stewart Friesen, who holds the final playoff spot with two races left in the regular season for the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, posted the fastest lap in Wednesday’s final practice session at Eldora Speedway.
Chase Briscoe showed his dirt track roots, being fastest in the first of two practices Wednesday at Eldora Speedway.
Briscoe, who won Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Iowa Speedway, covered Eldora’s half-mile dirt racing surface at a speed of 93.473 mph. Briscoe also comes into Thursday’s Eldora Dirt Derby as the defending winner from last year’s race there.
Series veteran Matt Crafton was second-fastest (92.874 mph), followed by Brett Moffitt (92.450 mph), Stewart Friesen (92.398 mph) and Sheldon Creed (92.237 mph).
That’s due to the 24-year-old Xfinity Series driver being in the midst of a rather busy three-races-in-eight-days schedule of racing, or at least busy for someone who competes full-time in a national NASCAR series.
The Stewart-Haas Racing driver is four days removed from winning the Xfinity race at Iowa Speedway for his first victory of the year.
Thursday, he will set out with ThorSport Racing to defend last year’s victory in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series’ Eldora Dirt Derby in Rossburg, Ohio.
He’ll then journey to New York for his first career race on the Watkins Glen International road course Saturday in the Xfinity Series (3 p.m. ET on NBC).
“It kind of takes me back to the dirt days where I’d run three or sometimes even four races in a week,” Briscoe told NBC Sports. “That’s the hard part, I think, about the NASCAR schedule is you don’t get to race a lot. At least compared to the dirt stuff. … They’re all definitely three different styles of race tracks. As a driver I love it. It’s kind of what it’s all about, getting to jump around in different disciplines and different types of tracks and just try to figure it out.”
Here’s how Briscoe learned or is learning to race on all three tracks:
It wasn’t the first time the two drivers have fought it out on the .875-mile short track.
While they’ve competed on the track together in real life four times in the Xfinity and Truck Series, their battles there date back a decade in the virtual world.
“It started out we would race ‘rFactor’ together,” Briscoe recalled. “It was a dirt game on the computer. It transitioned to iRacing. Our favorite thing to do on iRacing is we always ran Iowa. It was always the best track on there. It was the only pavement track you could throw slide jobs on. So we would always run it. It’s funny how tendencies and how guys race on there correlates over to real life. I feel like there’s some things I know, not every time Bell does what I think he’s going to do, but there’s a lot of times I feel like I kind of choose the right scenario of what he’s going to do and it works out.”
Those years of throwing virtual slide jobs paid off for Briscoe when he successfully pulled one off on Bell in Turns 1 and 2 with six laps to go.
Briscoe admits Bell is one of, if not the hardest, drivers to execute the maneuver on in the Xfinity Series.
“Him and Tyler Reddick,” Briscoe says. “Just because they both grew up dirt racing and understand the principle of it.”
Of their virtual racing day, Briscoe says “it was kind of cool to kind of live that back and a couple of years later go from racing online at the place to it working in real life and getting a win.”
“It’s hard to put in perspective that (teammate) Cole (Custer) has more Xfinity starts than I have pavement starts (in stock cars),” Briscoe says.
But in 2017, his lone full-time season in the Truck Series, Briscoe first experienced the NASCAR race where those two worlds collide: the Eldora Dirt Derby.
Driving for Brad Keselowski Racing, Briscoe entered the race thinking he “was going to set the world on fire.”
He very quickly discovered he was in over his head.
Twice in the first five laps of practice he spun his No. 29 truck.
“I was just on the gas, wide-open trying to drive like a sprint car,” Briscoe says.
Off the track, Briscoe sat in his truck when track owner and his future team owner, Tony Stewart, approached.
“Oh, this is cool, Tony’s going to come say something,” Briscoe thought.
“He just leaned down and kind of got onto me about how I got to quit driving so hard, how it’s not a sprint car,” Briscoe says. “Not that I looked like an idiot, but pretty much was saying I got to calm down. That kind of opened up my eyes.”
It took one more mistake for Briscoe to heed Stewart’s warning.
“I almost flipped the thing,” Briscoe says. “I was trying to throw a slide job and did it like a sprint car again and it carried way too much speed.”
Briscoe got things together enough to finish third that night. A year later, he would lead 53 of 154 laps to claim the win.
What has he learned about what it takes to handle a truck and win on dirt?
“You’ve got to kind of drive them like a pavement car with really, really old tires,” Briscoe says. “There’s a little bit of dirt stuff that kind of goes in, like reading the race track and trying to find extra grip. It’s like trying to drive on corded tires all the way around on pavement would be the easiest way to put it.”
Briscoe’s attempted defense of his 2018 win will come under different circumstances than last year. While he was competing part-time in the Xfinity Series, he took part in 25-30 sprint races throughout the year.
But Thursday’s race will be his first on dirt since he competed in the Chili Bowl in January. He’s not permitted to run a sprint car until the season is over.
“I’m going to be pretty rusty if I had to guess the first couple of laps,” Briscoe says. “But it’s going to be like riding a bike I would think. … I think the guys that run a truck every week have a little bit of an advantage, but at the same time I’ve been running a heavy stock car all year long. I feel like that will help a little bit too.”
Should he knock off enough rust and win, he’ll be the first driver to capture the Derby twice. It would be a significant accomplishment for the Indiana native who grew up attending races at Eldora.
“I don’t think it’s a big record by any means, but it means a lot to me.”
Like a handful of tracks this year, Briscoe has never traversed the road course in New York.
But Briscoe, who has competed in IMSA for Ford and won the Xfinity race on the Charlotte Roval last year, says it should have similar characteristics to other road courses he’s experienced.
“Pretty much every other road course I’ve ever ran you kind of have to get up on the wheel and you’re slipping and sliding around,” Briscoe says.
But he won’t show up in the garage Friday unprepared. He’s already spent extensive time in Ford’s simulator making laps around the Glen and watching on-board camera footage.
While in Eldora Briscoe plans to ask for advice on the track from Stewart, a five-time winner there. He’ll also lean on his teammate, Custer.
But like those tracks he’s visited for the first time this year, such as New Hampshire Motor Speedway, he’ll seek out the guidance of one of the most accomplished active Cup drivers: Kevin Harvick.
“That’s the nice thing about Stewart-Haas, we have a lot of really good race car drivers, a lot of guys have a ton of experience and they’re all open books,” Briscoe says.
But Harvick is the SHR Cup driver he turns to the most for guidance.
“He’s always been super good to me and always been willing to help,” Briscoe says. “The biggest thing is like braking points and things to look for. … I don’t really even know where the proper place to lift is or whatever. He’s really good at doing visual markers and using those. … He’s really good at being able to tell you what you need to try to work on for practice … so (the car will) race really good.”