BROOKLYN, Mich. (June 14, 2008) - It has been 29 races since Erik Darnell took home his first victory in the Craftsman Truck Series. A photo finish at today's Cool City Customs 200 would give him his second win and one for the record books. Darnell edged out Johnny Benson on the final lap by 0.005 seconds for the win. This is the closest finish in any NASCAR series race under the electronic timing system. The win puts the No. 99 team back in the top 10 in the overall truck series standings and adds quite a bit of momentum heading into the rest of the season.
Darnell's photo-finish victory began earlier in the day starting from the 11th spot. The No. 99 Ford F-150 was making its racing debut and quickly made a push all the way up to fourth spot after only lap one due to pole-sitter Mike Skinner and Jack Sprague getting tangled up in turn two. By lap 22, Darnell found himself all alone in the third position and gaining ground on race leader Todd Bodine. While holding down the third spot, Darnell came across the radio reporting his Ford F-150 tight going into turns one and two. Thirteen laps later crew chief Matt Puccia called Darnell into the pits for a scheduled stop making air pressure and chassis adjustments along with taking fuel and four tires.
Just two laps after coming to pit road, Darnell reported a possible vibration in the drive line of the truck. Now in sixth, Darnell caught a lucky break; when on lap 44, the second caution of the day came out due to debris. The NT+E Ford F-150 followed the leaders to pit road to make the proper adjustments. Hoping to fix the problem, Puccia made the call for only right side tires and fuel. Darnell would restart fourth on lap 50.
It wasn't until two laps later and the No.99 falling back to eighth, that Darnell told Puccia he was losing all driving availability with his Ford F-150. The truck was obviously not adapting to the two new tires put on minutes before. It seemed as if the bad luck bug had struck the team again. However, a caution on lap 58 would allow Darnell to follow the leaders to pit road for fuel and four tires. The move to take four tires would prove to be the difference in the final 38 laps.
After restarting 13th, Darnell had moved all the way into the top five by lap 70. The problems earlier in the race had seemed to vanish and just six laps later the No. 99 NT+E Ford F-150 was leading the rest of the field around the two-mile track. Darnell had built a sizeable lead with 10 laps to go, but saw the No. 23 of Benson slowly beginning to creep up on the No. 99.
Darnell would see his lead evaporate when a fourth and final caution would bring racing to a halt with just six laps to go. When green-flag racing resumed on lap 97, the final three laps saw Darnell and Benson fighting it out to the end. Going into the final turn of the Cool City Customs 200, the No. 99 and No. 23 were side by side heading to the checker flag. After NASCAR officials were unable to determine a winner, a photo finish showed Darnell had edged out Benson by 0.005 seconds to pick up his first victory of 2008. The margin was the closest in any series race since the implementation of electronic timing.
"I think the finish was a little more exciting than I wanted it to be, but I knew that Johnny [Benson] had been running me clean when he was behind me before, and I knew he wasn't going to get into me or anything. But, the way these trucks draft, the way you can side-draft with them, especially the air here at a bigger place like Michigan, I knew he was going to be able to suck up to the side of me and pull off and get a run, so I had to do the same thing to him. And fortunately for me, got it right at the start-finish line and was able to beat him by just a little bit. I honestly believe – I think we had a little bit better truck than Johnny did, but the way the draft works here, he was able catch back up to us every time at the end of the straightaway. So, I just knew that I had to keep rolling. I gave him the inside a couple of times just because I didn't think he'd be able to carry the momentum off the corner, which is kind of the same thing we were fighting. I knew if we got to the outside, it probably would've been done, he would've been able to get past me. But, it definitely makes for exciting racing, the way that these trucks go around here," said Darnell.
This is Darnell's second career victory in 61 Craftsman Truck Series races and his first since Kansas in 2007. "It definitely means a lot, not only for me but for Ford and for Roush Fenway. I honestly believe we should've had a couple of them earlier this year – Daytona and Charlotte are two of them that we probably should've won both of those already. Stuff happened and we didn't. It's just kind of frustrating, but to finally get that win out of the way; I mean, it's been over a year since I won one of these things and we've been close so many times and we were finally able to put everything together today," added Darnell.
The win is also very special to a majority of the NT+E crew who experienced victory lane for the first time yesterday, including crew chief Matt Puccia.
Darnell's victory moved the No.99 team into 10th in the overall standings. The team hopes to keep things rolling when they travel to the Milwaukee Mile for the Toyota Tundra Milwaukee 200 on Friday, June 20, 2008.
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.