One year ago, Stewart Friesen won his first SEF 200 using incredible gas mileage and track position.
He notched a second $50,000 win Sunday the old-fashioned way, by passing Billy Decker on the track, beating him out of the pits on their final stop and then fighting him off in a bare-knuckles fight over their final 42 laps around the sun-baked New York State Fairgrounds mile.
Decker, who edged Friesen in Saturday’s Nationwide Insurance 150 for 358 modifieds, had to settle for his first defeat of an incredible week, leading former winners Vic Coffey and Tim Fuller to the checkered flag. Pat Ward was fifth, ahead of Jimmy Phelps, David
Hebert, Kenny Tremont Jr., Rookie of the Race Mark Flach Jr. and Vince Vitale.
“Last year, it was economy. This year, it was run flat-out from lap one on,” said the elated Friesen. “It got pretty hairy lapping some of those guys running a couple of laps down, but I had Matt Hearn on the radio keeping me calm, and it worked.”
Bright sun and 80-degree temperatures, along with hard work by the track crew, produced a wide, super-fast surface, and the race was on from the green, with fast-timer Decker leading front row companion Billy Dunn away from the field and into the backmarkers by lap 18. Tim McCreadie moved to second in the mid-20-lap range with Friesen in tow, and together they pressured Decker through a lap-40 caution for a Brett Hearn flat tire that let the leaders make their first pit stop.
The caution was extended when the sweeper was still on the track going to the green, but the race then restarted with Matt Sheppard on the point and Decker and Friesen back in the pack. A series of yellows kept the field bunched up through lap 69, when Ronnie Johnson’s
engine belched a cloud of steam and smoke to bring a yellow that sent the leaders pitside, with Bobby Varin inheriting the lead.
Varin held command through three more yellow periods and even got the halfway bonus cruising under yellow before pitting on lap 151. But back in the field, Friesen had hauled his Cicci-powered TEO around Decker on lap 92 and when Varin went pitside, Friesen was the new leader.
“That was definitely the move of the race,” said the grinning Canadian. “I got him in traffic and that let me get in first, and beat him off pit road the next time.”
The race went green again on lap 102, with the day’s most serious incident coming six laps later, as Larry Wight got turned around on the frontstretch and hit full bore by Dunn, sending Wight’s mount twirling and ripping Dunn’s front end to shreds.
At that point, Friesen was leading Ryan Godown, Coffey, Decker and Justin Haers, with Godown getting alongside the leader repeatedly, but never putting him away. The top cars then made their second stop on lap 140, after Martin Roy drew a yellow with a flat, all planning on having their fuel and tire work done before the mandatory stop between laps 150 and 175, knowing that would be a stop and go.
That opportunity came soon, with Haers slowing on the frontstretch on lap 153, barely inside the pit window. Pit road was a mad scramble, with Friesen beating Decker, Coffey and Godown out and Tremont losing positions after cars came together at the end of pit lane.
From that point on, Decker kept trying to dive under the leader
going into turn three but never made the pass, as a pair of cautions repeatedly broke his momentum.
“We weren’t as good as we’d been all week, then the 35 mph pace-car speed on pit road killed us there,” said Decker. “I was better on long greens, but they were hard to come by today. And every time I got even with Stewart going in, I’d get down in the marbles on the inside. If I didn’t lift, I’d have wrecked us both.”
“Yeah, I saw him there a couple of times,” said Friesen. “I had to close the door pretty hard and force him down where he didn’t want to be.”
With the lap counter approaching 190, the order seemed to be set, then fifth-running McCreadie ran dry, followed by Godown’s mount sputtering, costing him a solid third. But Friesen never faltered, drawing a huge roar from the crowd as he got to the checkers just ahead of Decker.
Other Capital District drivers in the SEF 200 included Eddie Marshall (12th), Mike Perrotte (13th), Keith Flach (19th), Donnie Corellis (20th), JR Heffner (24th), Varin (26th), Hearn (35th), Ronnie Johnson (39th) and Andy Bachetti (40th).
Area drivers had a great afternoon in the week’s best race, the pro-stock championship. Rocky Warner drove from 11th to a $2,000 payday, winning over another Fonda Speedway racer, Rob Yetman. Third went to Syracuse kingpin Pete Stefanski, with polesitter Joey Ladouceur, Jocelyn Roy and former Fonda regular Kenny Martin rounding out the top six. Kim Duell was ninth, with Dean Charbonneau 13th, Dave Chenette 18th, Rick Achzet 23rd and Jay Corbin, Chad Jeseo, Luke Horning, Sheldon Martin and former winner Chuck Dumblewski running 26th through 30th.
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