MALTA, N.Y. — Stewart Friesen has struggled with his modified all season long at the Albany-Saratoga Speedway.
But when the Empire Super Sprints came to town Friday night, it was a completely different story.
The fleet Canadian transplant drove from 12th to the lead in just 16 laps, then cruised to his second career ESS win over early leader Jason Barney, Michael Parent, Steve Poirier and his girlfriend, Jessica Zemken.
Polesitter Barney outgunned Josh Pieniezak on the break, with Michael Parent settling into third just ahead of Danny Varin, another area modified regular making a rare sprint car appearance. By lap five Friesen had clawed his way to sixth and the next time around he dropped Zemken out of the top five and went to work on Poirier, taking fourth after two more tours of the three-eighths-mile oval.
By halfway, Friesen had put Parent away and was closing on Barney, who was struggling in constant traffic. Lap 15 saw them split a lapped car as they raced side-by-side but the next time they hit turn one Friesen went right to the top and blasted into the lead off turn two.
“I’m a little disappointed in myself,” tipped Barney. “I didn’t know where I wanted to be in three and four and wasn’t getting a good shot down the frontstretch into turn one. Then I saw the cameras all flashing down there and I knew I was in trouble.”
With six to go, Friesen too got bogged down in traffic and Barney used the lower groove to close on the leader only to struggle himself with the gaggle of lapped cars, letting Friesen run unchallenged to the checkers.
Varin led the second five in the flag-to-flag event, with Matt Tanner, Lance Yonge, Pieniezak and Patrick Vigneault trailing.
“What a car Doug Emery and Wayne Patterson give me,” declared Friesen, who drove the same car to an ESS win at Brewerton and had a 410 All-Star race in the bag before a lapped car took him out. “It’s fast whether they have a ‘410’ or a ‘360’ in it. I tried to go as hard as I could early before they got strung out and it worked. ESS is a great place to race.”
Ronnie Johnson also turned in a great drive in the modified feature, running down early leader Keith Flach from fifth in another non-stop race.
It took Johnson 26 laps to work his way to second and four more to get inside the rim-riding Flach, who finally hit turn four too hard with but two laps to go in the 35-lap feature, letting the infield-hugging Johnson take command.
Mark Kislowski was third ahead of Kenny Tremont, who’d come all the way from 13th under the green.
Johnson’s protégée, Connor Cleveland, claimed the sportsman finale.