DARNELL FINALLY DOES IT IN NASCAR COMPETITION by Jeremy Troiano
Youngster Takes Advantage Of Prince's “Human Error”
Erik Darnell has been one of the busiest youngsters in all of racing this year. Not only is he running full-time with the Southeast Series from his home in Beach Park (IL), but he's been running every Midwest Series race he can get to (originally Erik planned to do both full series, but had to skip a MWS race that was rescheduled on the same date as an SES race) and a handful of Super Late Model races around the country.
In NASCAR competition (SES and MWS), Darnell has been close on a number of occasions. Just one week ago, in the Southeast Series race at Lanier, Darnell looked to have the fastest car in the field and was running second when he got together with a lapped car and spun, sending him to the back. That first win was just eluding the 21-year-old.
Well, with a little luck on his side Wednesday night at Caraway Speedway (NC), Darnell finally got the monkey off of his back and won the Firecracker 150.
Darnell, who started fourth after qualifying third, quickly worked his way into second behind race leader Kevin Prince. Darnell followed Prince for nearly 100 laps before he pounced on the lead as a result of “human error.”
On lap 118, the lapped car of Pat Brewer blew up on the backstretch after getting into another lapped car, creating a bunch of smoke. As the leaders came out of turn two, Prince, who had led from the start, slowed up after his spotter told him to back down. However, NASCAR had not thrown a caution flag, allowing Darnell to fly by Prince and take over the top spot, one that he would keep until the end.
“It looked like a car might have spun or something because there was a big cloud of smoke back there and (Prince) just let off the gas,” said Darnell. “I saw a car down at the bottom (of the track) but I didn't see the yellow so I just kept my foot in it.
“I got screwed by that at Nashville (TN) when there was a big cloud of smoke and I slowed down and got passed by three or four cars. So I knew tonight to keep my foot into it.”
Prince, who was looking for his first career SES win as well, chalked the mistake to human error but was in relatively good spirits about the whole thing.
“I saw the smoke and I didn't slow down and my spotter was yelling 'back it down, back it down,'” said Prince. “Everything happened so fast there. I wasn't going to slow down but when I heard (my spotter) yelling, I thought he saw something that I didn't, so I backed off. The second I
Erik Darnell survived a threat from the veterans and even a brush with the wall (notice the white tire) to collect his first NASCAR Southeast Series victory. (51 Photos)
backed off, Erik went to the outside and he was carrying too much momentum for me to stop him when I got back in it. Once I got close enough I could see there was nothing there.
“I kick myself in the tail for backing off. But you know, I don't want to drive it in wide open and kill someone, but when my spotter yelled 'back it off' I thought he saw something I didn't.
Darnell (#7) chased Kevin Prince (#1) most of the night, but a mistake by Prince and his spotter gave Darnell an easy pass for the win.
“I feel like they should have thrown the caution. That is my discretion though. I am a little upset now because I think we had that race won. We had the car to beat and just had some bad luck. We just had some human error. As long as there is humans around, there will be errors. There is nothing you can do though other than just load up and be glad you got second and come back next week.”
Darnell however, will take the win any way he can get them, especially after feeling that hee win at Lanier last week was taken from him.
“This is a big win in my career, one of the biggest,” added Darnell. “ We finally got the monkey off of our back. We've been getting close a lot both here and up in the Midwest. We were finally able to pick one up here tonight.”
After taking the top spot and actually pulling out to the a decent lead, it wasn't complete smooth sailing for Darnell. A late race spin set up a four-lap shootout and Darnell had to fend off Prince and a hard-
Southeast Series points leader Jeff Fultz congratulates Darnell in Victory Lane at Caraway.
charging Wayne Anderson, who returned to the series in one of Eddie Mercer's cars.
“'Just keep it smooth.' is all I was thinking those last couple of laps. I saw that (Wayne) Anderson was pressuring Prince pretty good. I knew if we just kept it smooth and straight that last lap I knew we would be fine.”
When asked what he was thinking after the checkers, Darnell was at a loss of words, obvious that he didn't yet know what to make of all the time and effort it took him and his team to capture that first NASCAR-sanctioned victory.
“I don't know... what is the word I'm looking for... 'relief' I guess. It is just nice to get that first win you know. We've been trying so hard and we've been so close. There is just no other way to put it. It will be a lot sweeter as time goes by I think.”
Prince held onto second after a wild last lap battle with
Wayne Anderson made a return to the Southeast Series and finished third behind the wheel of Eddie Mercer's car.
Anderson, who finished third after setting fast time on the night. JR Norris continued his impressive rookie year with a fourth-place finish and series points leader Jeff Fultz finished fifth.