Stewart Friesen and Chandler Smith will both leave Bristol Motor Speedway on Thursday with missed opportunities to lock themselves into the next round of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Playoffs.
The two Toyota-aligned drivers were sitting in the top-two positions for a critical portion of Thursday’s UNOH 200 at Bristol, the opening race in the ‘Round of 8’, in which a victory would lock a Playoff driver into the championship race at Phoenix in November.
Chandler Smith, the winner of last year’s event at the half-mile oval, was able to capture the victory in the race’s first two stages, electing to pit at the end of the second stage, a move mirrored by both Stewart Friesen and Christian Eckes.
On the other hand, Ty Majeski – the race’s eventual winner – followed the strategy of polesitter Derek Kraus, and fourth-place finisher Grant Enfinger, which brought them down pit road prior to the end of the second stage, a strategic opportunity presented by a caution at lap 86.
“We had this one circled obviously for us to possibly win,” Chandler Smith told FOX Sports’ Bob Pockrass. “We had a dominant truck, honestly, we had a really fast Satellite Auto Glass Toyota Tundra TRD Pro all night. Once we went stage racing and them guys got track position, and the 66 and 38 were able to get upfront.
“Like, me and the 52 were the only people that passed all night. I don’t know how to fix that, it wasn’t good, fun racing I can promise you that. Us as a group, we were just a little too tight. I felt if we were little freer we would have had something for them…”
Entering this weekend, Smith was second in NASCAR Truck Series Playoff standings, 15 points above the cutline, a reasonably comfortable advantage returning to the venue in which he scored his maiden victory.
However, with a dominant truck, the driver of the No. 18 finished ninth, but can still find solace in the fact that the two stage victories have given him a 24-point cushion heading into Talladega.
Another aspect of Smith and Friesen’s strategy downfall was Zane Smith and Front Row Motorsports, who only elected to pit once throughout the entire event, on lap 45. With the lack of tire wear, the team was able to finish in the runner-up spot.
Friesen had a similar story to tell, but likely a tougher loss, considering the smaller gap to the playoff cutline, entering Thursday just four points above the Playoff cut line. Finishing second in both stages, Friesen enters Talladega nine points above fifth, an uncomfortable position to be in heading to the season’s most unpredictable race.
“I mean caught up racing for stage points,” Friesen said, via Bob Pockrass. “Threw away the big picture and it’s disappointing… like I said, we had a terrible day last week at Kansas [Speedway] and we came back with a really, really fast TRD Pro tonight. Again, as I said got caught racing for stage points and threw away a chance to win the race. It’s tough, you roll around the bottom and tires kind of equalize, it just is what it is.”
“These guys get so bent out on drinking stage points, we’re to win the race. Just disappointing that’s all, we win as a team and lose as a team. Proud of HFR [Halmar Friesen Racing], it’s a new build for us this year, so that’s something that’s pretty cool. Yeah, we had the speed, but we didn’t have the execution.”