HOMESTEAD, Fla. (November 14, 2008) – Erik Darnell and the No. 99 Northern Tool + Equipment team came into tonight’s Ford 200 hoping to walk away from the last race of the 2008 season on a high note. In front of an estimated crowd of 30,000 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Darnell got off to a quick start jumping in the top three just minutes into the race. He would soon fight between a tight and loose race truck for the rest of the night ending his season with an 11th-place finish. Even with the finish, Darnell was able to hold onto fourth place in the final NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series point standings.
Darnell and his No. 99 NT+E Ford F-150 began Friday night’s journey around the 1.5- mile track from the sixth position. Three laps into the race Darnell was eager to let his crew chief, Matt Puccia, know the truck was already getting tight coming off the throttle in turn two. Puccia told him to let him know if the problem persisted.
At lap 12 Darnell drove pass the No. 5 of Mike Skinner for third place putting the No. 99 right in the middle of a three-truck battle for first with leader Ron Hornaday and second-place driver Kevin Harvick. The three drivers eventually broke apart from the rest of the field, but by lap 33 Darnell was now two seconds off the lead and was beginning to feel some pressure from the No. 59 of Terry Cook. Cook would pass the No. 99 on lap 40 right before the second caution of the evening would make its way out.
To workout the tightness with Darnell’s Ford F-150, Puccia elected to take four tires, fuel and both track bar and air pressure adjustments. A stop of just over 14 seconds got Darnell back in the third spot when racing when back to green on lap 45.
For the next 26 laps Darnell was able to hold onto the third spot on the track. However, as those laps started to pile up, Darnell was losing ground on Harvick and Kyle Busch who were 3.9 seconds ahead of him. By lap 75 Darnell was now in fourth place after being passed by Hornaday while battling a two-tire slide through turns three and four. Puccia told his driver they would get him fixed up on the next caution which came 13 laps later. The No. 99 received four tires, fuel and another set of track bar and air pressure adjustments. This stop though proved costly to the team as a lug nut on the right-rear tire fell off keeping Darnell in his pit stall longer than expected. The No. 99 NT+E Ford F-150 would lose five spots and restart ninth.
By lap 97 Darnell had fallen to 12th place, but was now fighting a loose race truck. Six laps later Darnell was able to make his way past the No. 15 of James Buescher for 11th. In the meantime the No. 88 of Matt Crafton was slowly making his way towards the No. 99. Darnell did not like the news of Crafton’s progress with the No. 88 just four points out of fourth place in the standings entering tonight’s race. As Crafton inched his way closer to Darnell, the fifth caution on lap 123 stopped his momentum. With just 13 laps to go and Darnell not making much movement on the track, Puccia made the call to bring the No. 99 in for the same combination of adjustments they had made the entire night: fuel, four tires, a track bar adjustment and air pressure adjustment. Darnell restarted 17th with eight to go, but quickly made his way up to 14th five laps later.
A late caution on lap 133 meant for a green-white-checkered finish hoping the driver of the No. 99 could hold off Crafton who was just several spots back. The final two laps saw Darnell gain three more positions to finish in 11th place. Yet more importantly, Crafton ended the race in 17th place, losing his bid to overtake Darnell in the final standings.
"It was a frustrating night. I guess we didn't keep up with the track as a well as we should have. Our Northern Tool + Equipment Ford was really good in the beginning and then we got tight on the first run. We didn't make a big enough adjustment on the first pit stop so we really went for it on the second pit stop and just got it way too loose. I was just hanging on at that point. We made the call to take four tires at the end. It turned out to be the right call. We were able to drive back up through there a little bit and got a decent finish out of it. It wasn't what we were looking for, but we'll take the points finish," explained Darnell.
Darnell ends the 2008 season with one win, two poles, nine top-five and 12 top-10 finishes. His fourth-place finish in the overall standings earned Darnell the top Ford driver in the series. Tonight’s race marks Darnell’s last time he will drive the No. 99 NT+E Ford F-150 after the recent announcement that he will he continue his partnership with his sponsor in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in 2009.
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 70 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. For more information on any of the Roush Fenway Racing teams, log onto www.RoushFenway.com.