Erik Darnell wins Michigan Truck Race

Erik Darnell, driver of the No. 99 Northern Tool + Equipment Ford F-150, took his only lead of the afternoon with 25 laps remaining and held on to win the Cool City Customs 200 at Michigan International Speedway on Saturday. Darnell edged Johnny Benson by just five-thousandths of a second in the second-closest finish in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series history.

 ERIK DARNELL – No. 99 Northern Tool + Equipment Ford F-150 (finished 1st) – “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 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 were able to beat him by just a little bit.”

MATT PUCCIA – crew chief, No. 99 Northern Tool + Equipment Ford F-150 – “We brought a brand-new truck here. The first time it had been on a race track was yesterday and worked all the nicks out of it. Started the race there and we talked yesterday that we didn’t know if we’d qualify that great, but we talked yesterday after practice and knew we’d have a good piece for the race today. Stared the race just a tick tight, worked on it a little bit with air pressure. Pit stops were really good today. The guys did an awesome job. Struggled a little bit the last couple of weeks, but these guys have worked really hard and they made it count when it needed to count.”

JACK ROUSH – owner, No. 99 Northern Tool + Equipment Ford F-150 – “This is my favorite place, obviously. Ford Motor Company is in Dearborn, World Headquarters for that company, and all of our employees and a lot of customers come. We’ve got two suites here. It’s always a pleasure to come to MIS. It’s the first superspeedway I went to – we came out here and watched Indy cars. So this is home for me and to be able to be here with Erik and Matt, it’s justwonderful. It’s great for Northern Tool. We’ve missed a couple of them this year; I know Erik was just mortified over not being able to win at Charlotte, as we all were, so this is a bit of redemption. I’m really proud of the guys for getting him on and off pit road, and proud of Matt for having the truck under him that could do his business. The Toyotas have a powerful engine with the parts that NASCAR has given them, and we’re just starting to be competitive that way. But, he clearly had the superior truck and he did a yeoman’s job. He wasn’t going to be intimidated today. He closed the deal and that’s what we’re looking for.”

ERIK DARNELL, continued – DID YOU KNOW YOU HAD WON IT AT THE LINE? “Not really. I knew that Johnny had gotten ahead of me, but with the side-draft I was able to pull back off of him and run right toward the finish line, but it’s so hard to tell from inside the truck. I thought I made of had him by a little bit, but if we did, it wasn’t by much.”

WHAT IS THAT LIKE IMMEDIATELY AFTER, WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW WHETHER YOU WON OR NOT? “It [stinks]. I’d like to say I beat him by 20 truck lengths, but we didn’t and it was close and then you get done and you don’t really know whether to come back around and try to grab that checkered flag. You’re just kind of in a state of confusion there for a little bit, but once you get that figured out, it’s alright.”

IT’S BEEN MORE THAN A YEAR SINCE YOU WON AND IT’S THE FIRST WIN THIS YEAR FOR ROUSH FENWAY AND FOR FORD. “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. Matt Puccia and everyone on this Northern Tool + Equipment crew did a great job. Pit stops were great today. This is a brand-new truck. All the guys back in the shop worked their butts off on it. It was, on paper, the best truck we had and I think it showed out on the race track today.”

THE LAST 40 LAPS OR SO WERE FUN TO WATCH. WHEN YOU’RE IN THAT TYPE OF CLOSE RACING, ARE YOU THINKING YOU WANT MORE OF THAT? “Yes and no. The tough thing about these two-mile tracks, especially with the trucks, just the way they are aerodynamically and with that spacer this year, taking away 80 horsepower or whatever it was, it’s hard to pass out there. We found out at a couple of the mile-and-a-half places this year that track position is really important. You may not have the best truck, but if you can get out front, you can kind of keep it there. And this is more like speedway racing here. 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.”

JACK ROUSH, continued – CAN YOU EXPLAIN WHY YOU’RE SO SUCCESSFUL HERE IN EVERY RACING SERIES? “We started our stock-car racing with Mark Martin coming here in 1988, he was really good at Michigan, just couldn’t wait to get to Michigan. And he gave me a good start, a good basis of set-up expectation and of strategy and I passed that on to the guys when I can, and there is an expectation when we come here, we’re playing in front of the home crowd, like most of the teams feel the same way, and my teams do, as well, feel that way about going to Charlotte. But, for me, it’s special for Michigan here because that is where I got my start and that is where Ford Motor Company is, and we have such a great time being hospitable to our customers and to a lot of our employees. We’ve got about 3,000 Roush Industry employees in Livonia, Michigan, here, in the Detroit area. So, it’s quite a homecoming for them, as well. They were in the stands; I’m sure there’ll be parties in the streets of Livonia tonight.”

A NUMBER OF YOUNG DRIVERS HAVE BEEN SUCCESSFUL IN THE TRUCK SERIES LATELY. HAVE WE REACHED THE FIRST CROP OF ALL OF THE EFFORT THAT’S BEEN PUT INTO DRIVER DEVELOPMENT AND TALENT SEARCHES? YOU WERE ONE OF THE PIONEERS. “I certainly was one of the ones that saw the benefit of working with young people that hadn’t realized their success yet, that had the tools to be able to enter competition. Erik’s family, his mother and dad, supported him and bought the tires and gave him the basis to get the experience, and somebody’s got to do that for youngsters.

Everyone one of these youngsters that are doing a good job has got a family that’s stood behind them before they attracted the interest of sponsors and team owners like me. Until about 15 years ago, somebody like Erik would not have had a chance to get in a good vehicle with enough tires and with enough people that can do what they need to do. He wouldn’t have had a chance to do that until he maybe raced for five or 10 years. And it was a real crapshoot to figure out which rookie was going to be able to do it, because nobody had good stuff. Well, today, it’s more pressure on the young people coming because they’re in good trucks, they’re in good cars, they’ve got all the tires they need, they’ve got all the people that they need to do their business, and it’s a free-for-all.  I both envy them and I pity them for the fact that there are so many youngsters with such ambition and with the tools to really get started. Erik is definitely in that group now, and we’re anxious to see what he can do.”

BRENDAN GAUGHAN – No. 10 International MAXXFORCE Diesel Ford F-150 (finished 5th) – “I’m mad at myself. We started the last lap third and finished fifth. The guys had a good run. Nice job by Erik Darnell. How about Roush Yates horsepower? Man, these things have got great power. And the Circle Bar guys, this is a brand-new truck for me. It just came out of the body shop, we hadn’t touched it yet all season, and what a great job to take it to the race track for the first time and it’s a great Ford. A top-five is what we needed to do to get back on the horse and start looking good for Ford and the Circle Bar guys.”

HOW DID YOU GET TO THE FRONT? “Bryan Berry [crew chief] and the Circle Bar Racing crew. They made adjustments, I made a bad decision on pit road to make an adjustment and I should keep my mouth shut more often, and Bryan saved me – he did something else. He just does a great job, man. He’s my hero.”

WHAT WAS THE STRATEGY WHEN YOU PITTED WITH 40 TO GO? “We came in and fixed my one shock adjustment, did another one, did spring rubbers, air presuure, a typical Bryan Berry deal.”

IS THIS A GOOD RACE TO CARRY TO MILWAUKEE NEXT WEEK? “Absolutely. This is momentum and we need to keep it.”

RICK CRAWFORD – No. 14 Circle Bar Truck Corral/Power Stroke Diesel Ford F-150 (finished 11th) – “That was a good run today. To start 21st and finish – after running in the top-10 most of the day there toward the end – that was a good job for the Circle Bar Truck Corral Ford F-Series pickup. Everybody needs to drive a Ford pickup like that one there. They can even get them with a Power Stroke Diesel under the hood. Kevin Starland [crew chief] made an excellent call there on the first pit stop and really fixed my truck and it took off after making up that lap. That’s not a great day, that’s not a win, but it’s a satisfying day and a good points day and puts us back up in the top-four.”

WHAT WAS THE STRATEGY WHEN YOU PITTED WITH 40 TO GO? “We didn’t want that last caution to come out because we had made it up to seventh or eighth, and was pretty solid in the top 10, and that last caution came out and everybody let their tires cool off and sort of ganged up on me a little bit. Hats off to my teammate in the other Ford F-150, Brendan Gaughan.”

JON WOOD – No. 21 Air Force Ford F-150 (finished 14th) – “I’ve been preaching the same thing for the past three weeks or so, and I guess I can still get by with still saying it because we are improving in a timely manner, and that’s that I’ve ever asked of myself and the everybody else. Since we’re not really worrying about championship points – it’s too late for that – and there’s no penalty for experimenting and being wrong, so that’s exactly what we’re doing, experimenting. We’re improving by leaps and bounds, but there are times when we don’t. Today was one of those days when we went a little too far with some stuff, and it hurt us. But, all in all, I would rather salvage a powerful second-half of the season than to accept what’s mediocre and keep getting mediocre results.”

AND YOU’RE HEADING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION? “Absolutely. Yes, without any doubt whatsoever. If we get this right, what we’re doing, it’ll be quite an eye-opener. I mean that because what we have to gain is fairly substantial.”

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