BRISTOL, Tenn. — Stewart Friesen climbed out of his big-block modified Sunday at Pennsylvania’s Port Royal Speedway and grimaced.
A likely victory slipped away in the closing laps and Friesen begrudgingly accepted second place. But when some fans approached him just moments later for a photo op, Friesen perked up and all seemed right again.
“Good luck next week,” one of those fans told Friesen, who smiled in return.
That is a snippet of Friesen’s love for dirt racing. As such, it’s only right he is making his NASCAR Cup Series debut driving the Spire Motorsports No. 77 Sunday at the dirt-covered Bristol Motor Speedway.
Friesen may be a full-time competitor in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, but he’s always carried his grassroots persona with him. Now, he gets to showcase that on stock car racing’s biggest stage and do so in the Cup Series’ first dirt race since 1970.
“I’m just really, really excited to be able to make a Cup start,” Friesen told SPEED SPORT at Port Royal. “It’s something I’ve always dreamed of doing. Thanks to everybody at Halmar (Racing) and the guys at Spire (Motorsports). It’s a dream come true to be able to do it. I’m going to try and enjoy it, and race as hard as we can, too.”
Friesen’s dirt-racing résumé is impressive. It’s so impressive his array of feats might not be fully recognized.
He’s won more than 300 features dating back to 1999. Last year, he led the nation in big-block modified wins with 28 and won both the north and south Short Track Super Series championships. He’s also won with the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series and has ventured into dirt late model racing this year.
The last time NASCAR raced on dirt — when the Truck Series competed at Ohio’s Eldora Speedway in 2019 — Friesen won.
These circumstances will be drastically different, though, as Friesen will sling a 3,200-pound, 750-horsepower Cup Series car around the high banks of Bristol.
“With the banking, there’s a lot more right-side load that we’re going to see in the right fronts,” Friesen said. “We’re going to have to stiffen that up accordingly. I think the Trucks and the Cup cars will race a lot different from what we saw the late models this past week.”
“With the Cup cars, there’s a lot more horsepower, harder tires, and it should polish up [the racing surface] and slick up,” Friesen added. “I think it’ll race more like that IMCA street stock race, where the guy was ripping it around the top. That was pretty cool. Hopefully, that’s the plan. I’m looking forward to it.
“There’s definitely some similarities [from Eldora] and some stuff we’re bringing to Bristol that will apply to the Truck and the Cup car. We’ll see what we got.”
Friesen will be looking for his second Truck Series victory in Saturday night’s event at Bristol, driving his normal Halmar Friesen Racing No. 52.
Behind Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell, Friesen has perhaps the third-strongest dirt racing résumé of drivers entered in Sunday’s Cup Series race.
Despite driving for an underfunded Cup Series team, Friesen hopes the dirt surface evens the playing field.
“I hope so,” Friesen said. “I hope. Obviously, it will take a lot of the aero out of it, where these guys spend hours and hours tweaking stuff to get it better. We’ll see. We’ll have to give the car what it needs and try to dial some grip into it and see how it goes.”
Friesen just wants to complete all the laps. The rest takes care of itself from there.
“We’ll see,” Friesen said. “I’m optimistic. It’s just there are a lot of unknowns.”