ROSSBURG, OH – Stewart Friesen was running on fumes, but he had to hold off the field for a final two lap shootout in Thursday night’s Eldora Dirt Derby. But, by having the preferred outside line on the final restart, it was enough for his No. 52 Chevrolet to get a great launch and set sail en route to his first career NASCAR Gander Outdoors Trucks Series victory on Thursday at the Eldora Speedway.
Friesen, led the final 57 laps and crossed the finish line first for the first time in 63 career starts.
Stewart Friesen ahead of Matt Crafton during Thursday night’s Eldora Dirt Derby
He was 0-for-62 prior but among those 62 previous starts was six runner-ups. He was close so many times and it appeared that Thursday’s race would be close again. See, Friesen never hit pit road for tires or fuel. He went all 150 laps without service, as his No. 52 Chevrolet had just enough Sunoco racing fuel to propel his Halmar Racing entry to victory lane in dramatic fashion and punch his ticket to the playoffs.
Friesen, stayed out at the end of the first stage and moved up into the top five. He stayed out at the end of the second stage when race leader and pole sitter Chase Briscoe pitted for the first time of the race himself. Briscoe, had led the opening 93 laps including taking both stage victories. But, the ThorSport Racing driver hit pit lane in his No. 27 Ford for tires and fuel but unfortunately exited 12th.
He was involved in a couple of incidents shortly after the final stage began but was able to bring his truck home seventh when it was all said and done. Friesen, held the lead for the entire final stage due to not pitting and him being so good on dirt, no one could touch him either.
Friesen, becomes the seventh straight different winner of the event as he now has three consecutive top three finishes at Eldora and five top five finishes including four in the top three in the last six races of the season. The lone exception was his opening lap crash at Pocono last weekend when he finished last (32nd) and dropped to just 13 points ahead of the cutoff spot.
Now, he leaves Eldora able to breathe easily as he’s in the playoffs now.
Another dirt racer in Sheldon Creed came home runner-up by .728-seconds in his No. 2 Chevrolet for his first top 10 finish in Eldora but his fifth of the season. Last year’s ARCA champion needed a win to make the playoffs and came up just short. He’s now in a win or go home scenario for the postseason next weekend in Michigan.
Points leader Grant Enfinger finished third in his No. 98 Ford for his third straight top four finish in Eldora but his first top five on the season since Iowa in June. He did so though from the 15th starting spot.
Rookie Mike Malar who was making his very first Truck Series start filled in for Josh Reaume in the No. 33 Chevrolet and came from 23rd to finish fourth.
Todd Gilliland rounded out the top five in his No. 4 Toyota for his fifth top five finish in his last six starts on the year. But, by Friesen winning, Gilliland is 97 points out heading to the final race of the regular season next weekend in Michigan.
Here are my main takeaways.
Action during Thursday night’s Eldora Dirt Derby
Past Winners Curse Still Lives
The list of names to have won in Eldora in the Dirt Derby’s brief history is astounding. Austin Dillon, Bubba Wallace, Christopher Bell, Kyle Larson, Matt Crafton and Chase Briscoe. Six years, six different winners.
But, Thursday night appeared to be the best shot of a repeat winner. The front row was Briscoe (1st) and Crafton (2nd). They won the first two heat races respectively and earned the top two starting spots via that.
Briscoe, was untouchable all week. He was quick in practice and dominated his heat race. His No. 27 Ford was untouchable in the race too. He led the first 93 laps but his pit stop hurt his chances of winning. More on that later. He’d only rebound to finish seventh.
For Crafton, he wasn’t ever a big factor and faded to a 10th place finish, tied for his worst in seven career Eldora starts.
With Friesen winning, the streak continues to eight.
Friesen’s Strategy Is A Problem For This Race
Stewart Friesen winning is a great story but how he won is going to be controversial. See, I have no problem with Friesen winning Thursday night’s race. He earned it and was honestly a favorite. But, with them not pitting throughout the duration of the race, well that’s going to change this race for the future unless rules are changed.
See, they didn’t do anything wrong by not pitting. This is 100-percent not their fault. But, Friesen showed that you can go a full 150 laps and not have to pit. Track position is so key in Eldora that Friesen showed that why pit in the future of this race.
The problem lies, if nothing is changed for 2020, why would anyone in their right mind hit pit lane? If Chase Briscoe never hit pit lane following the second stage, he would have likely won in dominating fashion. He led the first 93 Laps and was untouchable. If he went on Friesen’s strategy of not pitting, he would have likely led all 150 laps and went back-to-back.
Next year, the top starters aren’t going to pit. Why would they? If you can save valuable track position and now know you can make it to the end of the race on the same set of tires and same tank of fuel, why pit?
So, the only way to fix this would be to add laps to the race or make it mandatory to pit. Both aren’t necessarily the best options.
See, the race already lasted too long on Thursday. The duration was pushing two hours for 150 laps. The reason it was so long was the fact that we had 12 cautions for 68 laps. More on this later. But, we can’t keep having yellows and add laps to ensure everyone has to pit. The crowd was growing restless already.
So, the next logical option would be to force these guys to pit, but how fair is that? If you don’t need to pit, why would you? How can you force someone to pit? I don’t like that either.
The braintrust will have to come up with something because if nothing changes, we will have trucks not pit at all next year and at that point, we won’t see much change up front.
While we’re on that topic, lets talk about how the drivers kept messing things up when we were supposed to go back to green last night. Under yellow, several drivers would ride around 2-3-4 wide because everyone thought that they were supposed to have that spot. You can have four guys wanting the same piece of real estate. Then, just when you thought that the field was set, you’d get more drivers trying to think that they deserved a spot and would pull alongside which would delay us going back to green.
We saw this several times under a majority of the yellows that we’d get the one to go at the line signal then get the restart waved off due to Trucks not lining up properly. Due to the track only being a 1/2 mile in length, it would take NASCAR some time to get Timing & Scoring figured out which meant a delay by multiple laps in going green.
Out of 150 laps, 68 of them were under yellow. That’s 45-percent of the race which is entirely too much.
Rough Night For Harrison Burton
The rookie did not have a good night on Thursday in Eldora. Burton, spun early, had a heating issue then was caught up in the “Big One” on Lap 65 which put his night out of its misery. The KBM driver finished 31st which ended a streak of three straight top four finishes on the season.
He’s now 64 points behind the cutoff spot, meaning he has to win next weekend in Michigan in order to make the playoffs.