MEMPHIS, Tenn. (June 28, 2008) – Erik Darnell and the No. 99 Northern Tool + Equipment team left Memphis late Saturday night with their heads held high. Darnell overcame a tight race truck for most of the night to pick up a second-place finish at a track that he has now dominated for the past three years. Tonight’s O’Reilly 200 gives Darnell three top-10 and two runner-up finishes at Memphis Motorsports Park. The strong finish certainly adds to the team’s momentum ending a seven week stretch of racing that saw Darnell finish in the top-five the past three races.
Darnell’s Memphis weekend began Friday evening with the No. 99 capturing the fastest time during the happy hour practice session. He followed that up on race day by qualifying fourth and starting on the outside of row two, just behind fellow Roush Fenway teammate Bobby East who just missed taking the pole. After the first 20 laps of racing and already one caution coming out, the NT+E Ford F-150 was still holding down the fourth spot with Darnell reporting the truck being very good off entry and the throttle, but a little tight in the center.
By lap 30, Darnell was beginning to deal with lapped traffic while still trying to pursue the No.2 of Jack Sprague in third place. When the third caution of the evening waved over the track on lap 53, the No. 99 followed the leaders to pit road still complaining of the truck being tight mostly through the center of the corners. Darnell restarted 11th four laps later after the No. 99 stopped for four tires, fuel and both track bar and air pressure adjustments hoping to loosen up the Ford F-150.
Over the next 30 laps, Darnell did not make up any ground on his competitors staying in the 11th spot and actually falling back as far as 14th after telling his crew chief, Matt Puccia that the track bar adjustment made earlier did little to help the truck maneuver better in the center of the turns. Puccia told his driver to stay with it and they would fix him up when the next caution came out. However, it seemed as if the truck was starting to loosen up because Darnell broke into the top 10 by lap 83 and just 10 laps later was back in fourth, just five seconds off the lead.
At the midpoint of the 200-lap race, Puccia told Darnell to keep up the good the work and not to overdrive the truck. His words must have stuck with his driver because by lap 116 he passed the No.11 of David Starr and now had his sights on leader Ron Hornaday and the second-place truck of Rick Crawford. Even though Darnell had moved into the third spot after being as far back as 14th, he was still reporting his Ford F-150 being tight. The NT+E crew got their chance to work on the truck again following a fourth caution and did a fantastic job of getting Darnell back in the third spot following the restart on lap 126 making another track bar and air pressure adjustment along with four tires and fuel.
Just 12 laps later, Darnell’s outstanding driving got him into second-place right behind Hornaday. It looked as if the two drivers were beginning to pull away from the rest of the field with third-place driver Rick Crawford now four seconds behind the No. 99. However, a sixth caution on lap 165 allowed Crawford and the rest of the field to get their chance at Hornaday and Darnell. During the caution Darnell came across the radio saying the truck was still a little too tight in the center, but nothing that would slow him down from catching up to Hornaday.
With 14 laps to go in the race and Darnell still holding onto the second position, a seventh caution gave Darnell the opportunity he needed to possibly take over the top spot on the restart. Yet Hornaday quickly pulled away when the green flag dropped with six laps to go. With Hornaday having his sights on the checkered flag with three laps left, a wreck brought out the eighth and final caution of the night giving way to a good old green-white-checkered finish. However, it was not to be as Hornaday pulled away again on the restart capturing the win, with Darnell finishing a close second.
“Overall, it was a real good night for our Northern Tool + Equipment Ford. Second is nothing to frown about. I was really hoping to pick up the win tonight. But Matt Puccia and all the guys on pit road did a great job with adjustments tonight. Ron was just a little bit better than we were on the restarts. After five or six laps, I think we were about equal and I started catching him on the long runs, but he was better on the restarts and that made the difference at the end. He’s always run me very clean and I think maybe two more laps and we would have been able to get to him,” said Darnell.
The No. 99 NT+E team moved up one spot to seventh in the overall Craftsman Truck Series standings following tonight’s race, now just 137 points out of the top spot currently held by Hornaday. Darnell and the rest of the No. 99 team will get two weeks off and return to action on Saturday, July 19th for the Built Ford Tough 225 at Kentucky Speedway at 7 p.m.
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 and John Wes Townley; and one in the ARCA RE/MAX Series with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.