Erik Darnell Finishes Fifth To Lead Southeast Series Drivers in NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown at Irwindale Speedway

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Oct 16, 2004) -- The NASCAR AutoZone Elite Division, Southeast Series didn't produce a winner in Saturday night's NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown, but the overall results were much better than last year's results at Irwindale (Calif.) Speedway. It truly was a night of redemption for the Southeast Series with two drivers finishing in the top-eight. The best finish for the tour last year at Irwindale was 10th.

Erik Darnell led the Southeast Series' efforts with a strong fifth-place finish while Kevin Prince finished eighth. Dusty Williams also had a solid night in the NASCAR Toyota All-Star Showdown with a 16th place finish in the 40-car field. Southeast Series champion Jeff Fultz was just behind in 17th.

Darnell was a man on a mission as his in-car camera on the live SPEED Channel broadcast captured some breathtaking images of him making his way to the front of the pack despite starting from the 27th position.

"That wasn't too bad," Darnell said with a smile. "We kind of missed something in our qualifying race, but I think we made up for it in the race on Saturday night. It was pretty neat because I've never had the chance to compete in a race that big. I'm glad we got the chance to do it and finished as well as we did. I thought we had a shot at the victory. Once I got up to fifth I had pretty much used up my tires. If we would have had 50 more laps, who knows were I might have ended up."

Prince admitted he was relieved to finish eighth after his practice speeds looked like he was headed for a long weekend. In fact, Prince was running sixth behind Darnell late in the race until he got kicked back a couple of positions.

"We headed to Irwindale with high hopes but kind of struggled once we unloaded the car off the trailer," Prince said. "I tell you what, (crew chief) Jason Green and my entire team poured their hearts into and worked their butts off to get the car as good as we were. Those guys never gave up and we ended up with a Top-10 so we were pretty happy."

Prince believes he might have been able to do even better had he not had to start 20th and use his tires up while gaining track position throughout the 125-lap race that included a 10-minute competition break.

"In a race of that caliber, it's all about track position because everybody is so close as far as speeds are concerned," Prince said. "We finished tenth in our heat race which wasn't that bad even though I would have liked to have ended up closer to the front. I guess it just wasn't meant to be. Anytime you go into a race like that, you know it's not going to be easy. You kind of get in a mindset of wondering what you have to do to make the car better. That's what we did all weekend.

"We kept working to make the car better and better. We finished eighth and we're happy with that. At the same time, if we would have started the race with a little better track position we might have been able to do even better than that."

Fultz, who led the Southeast Series this season with five victories, was expected to be a major factor but had his work cut out for him thanks to a 35th starting position en route to his 17th place finish.

"That was okay for us even though we surely wanted to do better than how we ended up," Fultz said. "When they dropped the green flag we passed a lot of cars, but then as we moved up through the field the competition got a lot tougher. When we came in for the halfway break we'd moved up to 15th. We took on four tires and were able to get by about four cars until another car got into me and it knocked the toe-in out. We were kind of sitting ducks after that.

"As bad as we qualified, to go through the problems we did and finish in the Top-20 with this class of cars means a lot to me."

Justin Wakefield just missed a Top-20 effort with a 21st place finish. While five of the Southeast Series drivers fared well, the other five competitors had their fair share of problems in the form of Greg Pope (35th), Chris Davidson II (36th), Allen Karnes (38th), J.R. Norris (39th) and Chris Davidson (40th).