MEXICO CITY, MX (April 20, 2008) – Erik Darnell and the No. 17 CitiFinancial Ford Fusion team headed south of the border this weekend for Darnell’s NASCAR Nationwide Series debut. Being Darnell’s first Nationwide Series race and only his third career road course race, the team knew it would be a learning experience. Driver and crew came out strong; posting top-10 speeds in both practice sessions and qualifying 14th. Darnell fought hard against a field filled with road course ringers and Sprint Cup regulars to bring the CitiFinancial Ford Fusion home 26th.
“This is going to be totally new to me,” said Darnell about making his Nationwide Series debut on a road course. “The two road course races I’ve run were probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a race car. It’s just totally different from the normal oval track experience, turning left and right, braking, shifting. It’s something that’s completely different from what I’m used to, but it’s a lot of fun. So, I’m looking forward to running the race this weekend.”
Early on in the race, Darnell told crew chief Drew Blickensderfer that the No. 17 CitiFinancial Ford Fusion was “really tight all the way through the corner.” Darnell settled in and held strong in the top-15 during the beginning laps. Darnell was up to 11th when he reported the car was “getting real free on the right handers” on lap 14. The CitiFinancial Ford Fusion was running ninth when Darnell came down pit road for the stop of the afternoon. After four tires and an air pressure adjustment, Darnell was back on the track.
Darnell was 18th when the caution flew on lap 35. With pit strategy coming into play, Blickensderfer elected to leave Darnell on the track after the two discussed what changes to make on their next pit stop. Darnell restarted 12th and was up to 10th on lap 45 when Blickensderfer called him down pit road for four tires and a wedge adjustment.
The CitiFinancial Ford Fusion was 18th on lap 59 when Darnell spun and dropped back to 30th. The caution flew on lap 62 and Darnell told Blickensderfer he was “still free on the right handers.” Within their fuel window to make it to the end of the race, Blickensderfer brought Darnell down for the final pit stop of the day. The CitiFinancial team gave Darnell four tires and another wedge adjustment. Darnell held his own during the final caution-filled laps of the event and when the checkered flag flew, the CitiFinancial Ford Fusion was 26th.
“I definitely learned a lot this weekend,” said Darnell. “The CitiFinancial Ford Fusion was pretty good for practice and qualifying. We started off pretty tight today but then I got free going through the right hand turns. It was crazy out there. We’ll never be happy with 26th, but with everything we had to overcome I think it was a decent day for the CitiFinancial team. The goal was to keep the car in one piece and get good seat time and we did that.”
Darnell will return to the Nationwide Series later this season driving the No. 16 CitiFinancial Ford Fusion at Milwaukee, Daytona and ORP.
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, Kvapil, Bobby East and John Wes Townley; and one in the ARCA RE/MAX Series with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.