LEBANON, Tenn. (August 9, 2008) – The final few laps of the Toyota Tundra 200 looked all too familiar to race fans. It was around this time two months ago Erik Darnell and his No. 99 Northern Tool + Equipment Ford F-150 pulled out the closest victory in a series race under the electronic timing system when he defeated Johnny Benson by 0.005 seconds. This time around though, it would be Benson who would overtake Darnell with just three laps to go to capture the Toyota Tundra 200. Darnell took over the lead with 32 laps to go after falling back as far as 25th midway through the race. The second-place finish now gives Darnell seven top five’s this season.
Saturday night’s race began with the No. 30 of Todd Bodine leading the field to the start of the race. Darnell qualified 10th earlier in the day, but soon fell to 12th two laps into the race. He radioed in one lap later to notify crew chief Matt Puccia that he was already fighting tightness with the truck in traffic along with a lack of grip. The next 28 laps saw Darnell bounce back and forth between seventh and 11th place.
When the second caution came out on lap 35, Darnell reported the truck still tight, but seemed to be handling pretty well rolling off the center of the track. The leaders headed in for their first stop and the No. 99 followed taking fuel, four tires, an air pressure adjustment and one round of track bar. Darnell entered pit road in seventh, but the NT+E crew handled the stop with ease and got him back out in fourth behind Todd Bodine, Jack Sprague and Mike Skinner.
By lap 60 Darnell was holding down the sixth spot, but had reported several laps earlier the truck was extremely tight on the race track. When the fourth caution came out three laps later the leaders decided to stay out and Darnell did the same. Even though the front end of the truck was tight, Darnell said it was actually getting better as the race went on.
It looked as if the No. 99 NT+E Ford F-150 was beginning to show some improvement until Darnell came across the radio during the fifth caution on lap 73 saying he may have a tire going down. He said something didn’t feel right with the way the truck was handling. While most of the field was waiting for pit road to open, members of the No. 99 team were trying to figure out if a tire was actually down. So, when pit road finally opened and there was no sign of a flat, the call was made just to take a splash of fuel and another round of track bar. The quick stop got Darnell back up front with the leaders.
However, soon after returning to the track Puccia was given the bad news that the truck’s right-front tire was flat. Darnell returned to the pits under the caution getting four fresh tires and topping off the fuel. The unfortunate break cost the team dearly as Darnell restarted the race 25th.
Even though the race was a little more than halfway over and the No. 99 had a lot of ground to make up, it didn’t seem to phase Darnell. Over the next 32 laps he climbed 13 spots and was now in 12th with 38 laps to go.
On lap 112 when a sixth caution slowed racing, Darnell came to pit road with the leaders and only took a splash of fuel. The outstanding call by Puccia got the No. 99 back out in second place behind the No. 33 of Ron Hornaday.
Less than a full lap into the restart on lap 118, Darnell passed Hornaday for the lead going into turn three. Darnell did an incredible job of saving the truck and keeping the top spot at the same time a few laps later on another restart when Hornaday got into the back on the No. 99.
Darnell would hang on to the lead for the next 29 laps, but with three laps to go and the wear of old tires beginning to show, the No. 23 of Johnny Benson overtook the top spot. Benson would stay there for the remaining laps picking up a third-straight victory. Darnell held off Todd Bodine and captured a second-place finish.
“Our Northern Tool + Equipment Ford was fast all night. We struggled in practice yesterday; I’m not going to lie. We worked our butts off. We changed everything on this truck to end up 25th on the speed chart. My hat is off to all these guys, Matt Puccia and everybody on this crew for helping out this weekend. We had a really good truck. We had a flat tire halfway through and that kind of got us behind. So we were kind of put in a box and had to really work to get track position. We didn’t take any tires at the end. We were a little bit too tight because we didn’t get an adjustment on it. It’s frustrating to lose one three laps from the end. It seems like me and Johnny have had a lot of close battles this year. It was a good run for us,” said Darnell.
The superb finish moved Darnell up one spot to sixth-place in the overall Craftsman Truck Series standings. The recent winning streak of Benson though moves the No. 99 NT+E team further away from the number one spot, now 240 points out of the lead. The Craftsman Truck Series will return to action on Wednesday, August 20th for the O’Reilly 200 at Bristol Motor Speedway at 8:00 p.m. ET.
About Northern Tool + Equipment
Northern Tool + Equipment has been a supplier of high-quality tools and equipment for more than 27 years, selling products through direct mail, the Internet and at nearly 65 retail locations in 11 states. Along with a deep selection of hand, power and air tools, Northern Tool + Equipment carries a wide variety of products, including generators, pressure washers, air compressors, hydraulics, small engines, trailers, water pumps, tractors, welding equipment and much more. Northern Tool + Equipment also serves as the exclusive distributor of NorthStarTM brand equipment, which is fabricated and assembled at the company’s 250,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility. For more information, visit www.northerntool.com.
About Roush Fenway Racing
Roush Fenway Racing operates 13 full-time motorsports teams, five in NASCAR Sprint Cup with drivers Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and David Ragan; four in the Nationwide Series with Kenseth, Biffle, Edwards, McMurray, Ragan, Erik Darnell and Colin Braun; three in the Craftsman Truck Series with Darnell, Braun, Travis Kvapil, John Wes Townley and Bobby East; and one in the ARCA RE/MAX Series with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.