Story By: JOHN DOUGLAS / RPW – MIDDLETOWN, NY – Stewart Friesen lead the final 50 laps of the Eastern States 200 to pick up the victory and the $40,000 prize that comes with it. His Halmar Racing No. 44 held off Danny Johnson, Jimmy Phelps, Tim Fuller and Mat Williamson as the top five finishers.
Brett Hearn led the field to green on Sunday afternoon, with high hopes of picking up his second win of the weekend after Saturday’s win in the Small Block 100 lap event. His No. 20H was strong, building a lead over Ryan Godown. The first caution of the race however, would bunch the field up after a short stint to start off the racing action.
The restart didn’t last long on lap 20, as Danny Creeden heavily damaged his machine. Just ten laps later, the caution flew again, opening the window for mandatory pit stops. Hearn took fuel only as he elected to take advantage of the early pit strategy but lost positions on pit road with a long stop.
Even with his long stop, Hearn’s crew calculated that only two gallons had made it from the can to cell in Hearn’s machine. Sometimes a driver makes their own luck, and in this case for Brett Hearn, that came by way of a flat tire, which brought out the caution and allowed the crew to properly fuel the car, change tires and stay on the lead lap.
Ryan Godown led Ronnie Johnson and Billy Pauch Jr. to the green flag on Lap 60. However, caution again flew on the field for Tyler Jashembowski. This gave Godown and Peter Britten the opportunity to hit pit lane for their scheduled service. However, Britten pulled behind the wall and was done for the afternoon with damage sustained during the incidents on track.
With 70 laps complete the top eight drivers had not yet made their mandatory pit stop for the day. R. Johnson led B. Pauch Jr and Matt Sheppard, who had slotted into the third position.
Jeff Heotzler and Jimmy Horton both suffered blown engines on the 72nd circuit and were done for the day.
As the top eight clicked off laps coming ever closer to the halfway point, Stewart Friesen had become the first car on track to have made his mandatory stop. The Sprakers, NY driver knew he just had to bide his time as those in front would need to come down pit road.
R. Johnson led the way through lap 100, picking up the $1,000 Budweiser halfway challenge award. Sheppard tailed him in the second position through the halfway point, with Marc. Johnson, Tom Hindley and Kevin Armstrong in the remaining top five positions.
Friesen had just moved up to the sixth position, when caution flew on lap 104. R.Johnson and M. Johnson both too k the opportunity to hit pit lane under this caution.
A quick succession of yellows on the restarts bunched the field up until the 80 to go mark. Sheppard had assumed the lead with the pit stops of the front running cars, with D. Johnson and Friesen the top three.
Another caution flew on the field just a handful of laps after the restart and this was the time for Sheppard to make their strategy play. Taking tires and fuel, Sheppard hoped to be in good position with fresher equipment than the rest of the field. However, his crew for the No. 9S had issues on the stop and Sheppard lost a lap. He would regain the lap later in the event and finish in the seventh position.
With 70 laps remaining the field took the green with “The Doctor” Danny Johnson at the front of the field. Friesen was up to the second position and J. Phelps ran third. T. Fuller and Williamson completed the top five.
With just over 60 laps remaining Hearn began losing ground to the front runners as the car developed mechanical woes. He would finish in the 16th position.
The green flag flew over Danny Johnson for the restart with 56 laps remaining. D. Johnson’s time at the front was over however, as S. Friesen grabbed the lead away on the inside of turns one and two. Friesen held his position at the front through the race’s final 50 circuits to take the victory.
Friesen picked up the $44,000 payday and the accolades of a victory on one of the season’s biggest stages in Big Block Modified racing.
D. Johnson held on for the second position, with J. Phelps, T. Fuller and Williamson completing the top five finishers.
“What a race team.” Friesen said. “ These guys are awesome, they work so hard. I’ve obviously gotta thank the boss and everything he’s done for myself and my race team and this race track. I know there’s more to come. So I’m super proud to get this win. We struggled a bit in qualifying yesterday and the boys worked hard.”
“I’m just so proud of them. We had a plan and we stuck to it and it paid off.”
Friesen admitted he had his doubts during the event. “ Well, there was a couple worries. Eric came on the radio making sure how much gas we got in it on that stop. They kinda wanted to come back in and as slick as the track was I didn’t think that was a good idea so we stayed out and gambled and it paid off.”
Friesen’s victory in the Eastern States 200 was a display of the Halmar Racing team’s ability to understand long distance race strategies. Something Friesen is picking up on in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series program as well.