PORT ROYAL, Pa. – From freak mechanical failures to uncharacteristic collapses, Stewart Friesen had found so many ways to lose a race in just four modified trips to Port Royal Speedway.
But Saturday, when the lights came on for the Speed Showcase 200, Friesen could unequivocally do no wrong.
Friesen led 102 of 200 laps and executed numerous restarts down the stretch to at last conquer Port Royal, the latest another Crown Jewel and $50,000 prize on his prolific resume.
It’s Friesen’s 32nd modified win of the year and second mega payday the past month. Friesen banked $53,000 in the Fonda 200 at Fonda (N.Y.) Speedway on Sept. 18.
Matt Sheppard, who led 56 laps in the first half of the race, gave Friesen another scare when he rallied from multiple pit stops to finish second, 1.563 seconds back.
“It’s good to win this race,” Friesen said. “Unbelievably long race. Such a privileged race here at Port Royal for our modifieds. And to win this big one is really special.”
After Friday’s qualifying night went amiss, Friesen either played his best poker face or genuinely braced himself for another disappointing Port Royal finish.
He lacked enthusiasm and direction, saying “I don’t know … hopefully we can be good” after his laborious effort to finish fourth of the six cars that transferred.
Mechanical woes ruined his Thursday preliminary feature.
But there were none said issues Saturday, not even a trace. Friesen scurried to the lead from the 15th-starting position on lap 74 and led up to the halfway break.
Sheppard had controlled the race to that point but slipped to second by lap 100, when differing strategies altered the course of events.
Thirteen mid-pack cars forewent the hot pit and tire changes during the 10-minute halfway break, which meant the leaders — Friesen, Sheppard, Mike Maresca, Ryan Godown and polesitter Alex Yankowski — restarted 14th onward.
The leaders, needless to say, elected for a change of tires. Larry Wight took advantage, going from 12th to lead the second half’s first 25 laps.
But it didn’t take long for Friesen to reemerge. While first-half leaders Sheppard, Maresca and Godown stagnated, Friesen sailed from ninth to fifth on the outside of turn four on lap 112.
By lap 125, Friesen regained control for good.
“Definitely in a much better mood than last night, after breaking stuff and not having the runs we wanted,” Friesen said.
“Finally, we put the draws behind us, and got in the show,” Friesen said. “Just made the right adjustments. We had a good slick track package, but the track was never slick all week. It was hammer down and tonight, with the way the weather was, the track crew did an amazing job.”
Sheppard, meanwhile, botched his halfway adjustments and fell to 26th at one point in the second half of the race. He pitted twice over the final 80 laps, and still found a way to drive through the field for another shot at the win.
“After we shot ourselves in the foot at the halfway break, we had to try and out-tire them a little bit,” Sheppard said. “It almost worked.”
Shortly after Friesen raced to his largest lead of the night at 2.5 seconds over Godown, a caution reset the field with nine laps to go.
Sheppard made his way to seventh and then into fourth before the last caution with five laps remaining. When things resumed, Sheppard slid into second and, like last year when Friesen lost the win with 15 laps left, unwanted flashbacks came to mind.
“Yeah, I was thinking about that,” Friesen said. “I was like, ‘Man, I can’t let this deal get away again.’”
This time, Friesen couldn’t be denied.
Stewart Friesen, Matt Sheppard, Matt Stangle, Ryan Godown, Mike Gular, Mike Mahaney, Tim Fuller, Mat Williamson, Jack Lehner, Brandon Grosso, Jared Umbenhauer, Alex Yankowski, Rich Laubach, Larry Wight, Erick Rudolph, Ronnie Johnson, Billy Pauch Jr., Peter Britten, Jessica Friesen, Joseph Watson, Kyle Coffey, Sammy Martz, John Willman, Jeff Strunk, Joe Judge, Michael Maresca, Frank Cozze, Dominick Buffalino, Jimmy Horton, Alan Johnson, Andy Bachetti, Rusty Smith, Brett Haas, Ryan Susice, Ryan Watt, Anthony Perrego, Rocky Warner, Billy Decker, Ryan Riddle