CONCORD, N.C. (December 2, 2008) - Erik Darnell and the No. 99 Northern Tool + Equipment team entered the 2008 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series season with one goal in mind; to win a championship. Darnell’s season could not have started off any better as he captured the pole at Daytona, but a 21st-place finish followed by a string of bad races had the driver of the No. 99 and his team searching for answers. It wasn’t until the 10th race of the season at Michigan where Darnell picked up the closest win of any NASCAR series race under the electronic timing system, and also saw his season turn around for the better. Following the victory, Darnell would go on to grab six more top-five and nine more top-10 finishes to earn a fourth-place spot in the final standings. Even though it wasn’t the championship season they had hoped for, the No. 99 NT+E team proved to be one of the dominant teams of 2008.
The season began down at Daytona where Darnell and the NT+E team were looking to rebound from their 12th-place finish in the final standings the year before. Darnell got off to a blazing start as he locked up the pole, but come race time the driver of the No. 99 was involved in a late wreck coming down pit road which ended his night early. Following Daytona, the next eight races with the exception of Martinsville (fifth) and Charlotte (fourth) saw a team spiraling out of control with four finishes outside the top-20. After the first nine races of the season, the No. 99 team was sitting 12th in the standings.
“This was definitely not the way I wanted to start the season. There were a lot of expectations heading into ’08 and if you had told me back in February that after nine races we would be sitting outside the top 10, I would not have believed you. I think the lowest point of the season was the back-to-back races at Texas and Dover. I had problems on the track, the team had issues on pit road; nothing was going right for us,” said Darnell.
One week after rounding out a dreadful two months to start the season, Darnell found himself in victory lane at the Cool City Customs 200 at Michigan International Speedway. In the closing laps of the race, Darnell and Johnny Benson battled back and forth trying to overtake one another on the two-mile track. As both drivers exited off of turn four side by side, it was anyone’s victory for the taking. It would take a photo finish to determine Darnell the winner. Darnell ended up beating Benson by 0.005 seconds. This would be his only victory of the season.
“The victory at Michigan was incredible. You don’t see finishes like that very often. Matt Puccia and everyone back at the shop put in a lot of long hours getting my Ford F-150 ready for that race. It was just what we needed heading into the second half of the season,” explained Darnell.
The win at Michigan was certainly a turning point for the team as Darnell posted four top-five finishes over the next five races including second-place finishes at both Memphis and Nashville. The recent surge gave the No. 99 team some well needed confidence, but more importantly it showed in the standings as Darnell jumped all the way up to sixth- place.
Following a 15th-place finish at Bristol, the Beach Park, Ill., native knew if he was to stay in the championship chase he needed to keep his focus for the final nine races. Darnell’s desire to stay in the hunt was evident as he drove his Ford F-150 to three more top-10 finishes including just missing out on a second victory after being chased down by Mike Skinner in the closing laps at Las Vegas. The second-place finish moved the No. 99 team up to fourth in the standings.
“Vegas was so disappointing because we had that sucker won. We just couldn’t seal the deal with all those cautions at the end. The finish though ended a great three weeks of racing with finishes no lower than sixth-place. Everything was clicking for us. It just seemed too good to be true,” added Darnell.
Two weeks later Darnell overwhelmed the Talladega crowd as he was crowned the pole-sitter for the Mountain Dew 250. Darnell led a race high 48 laps, but got caught up in traffic late in the race and never could find the right line at the end to finish 12th. Following Talladega, Darnell would come away with two finishes outside of the top 15, squashing any chance of fighting for a title with just two races to go.
The No. 99 NT+E team entered the final race of the season at Homestead with just a four- point lead over Matt Crafton for fourth in the standings. After claiming the top spot during the first practice and starting from the third row (sixth), Darnell battled much of the evening between a loose and tight race truck to finish in 11th-place. He was able to hold onto fourth-place though in the overall standings after Matt Crafton finished 17th.
“We struggled the last few races of the season and it’s a shame because this NT+E team was on a roll. Although we lost out on a championship, this team never gave up. There were plenty of ups and downs throughout the year, but through it all we stuck together as a team and it showed on the track,” said Darnell.
Erik Darnell 2008 Statistics
Laps Led: 262
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.