Loudon II: Erik Darnell race report

DARNELL NOTCHES 30th-PLACE FINISH AT NEW HAMPSHIRE Erik Darnell, driver of the No. 96 Northern Tool + Equipment Ford Fusion, made his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career start on Sunday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Darnell made...

DARNELL NOTCHES 30th-PLACE FINISH AT NEW HAMPSHIRE

Erik Darnell, driver of the No. 96 Northern Tool + Equipment Ford Fusion, made his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career start on Sunday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Darnell made his Cup Series debut at the daunting Atlanta Motor Speedway on Labor Day weekend and held his own, but heading into Loudon, the 26-year-old rookie felt more in his element. "This is a place I'm a little more comfortable," said Darnell. "We seem to have had some good runs over the years at New Hampshire in the Truck and even in the Nationwide Series earlier this year. This is a place I'm a little more relaxed and feel good about being able to get around. Atlanta was tough to go to for my first Cup race, especially driving one of these cars, but I'm a little more in my comfort zone here."

After taking practice sessions to acclimate himself with the 1-mile flat track in the No. 96, Darnell showed some improvement and posted a 37th-place qualifying attempt -- fourth best among all Ford drivers. Though, disappointed with his starting position, Darnell was looking forward to improving his No. 96 and securing a solid finish. "We were just a little bit too tight," Darnell said following his qualifying run. "Our Northern Tool + Equipment Ford was decent in practice, but not where we wanted to be. Over here on the Cup side, especially on a day like this, I've got to get used to getting about two race runs and then going straight into qualifying trim for practice because you get an hour-and-a-half and then you go right into qualifying stuff. So it's a little bit different. Ben Leslie and all the guys have made some good adjustments to it and they're getting me more comfortable in the car. It was just too tight in qualifying. I didn't think it would be that bad of a lap, but it wasn't very good. Hopefully, we'll get it tuned up for the race."

Pole winner, Juan Pablo Montoya led the 43-car field to the green in the Sylvania 300 and Darnell settled in for the first run. Lap 63 saw the first caution of the day and Darnell, who had reported a "tight" race car, made his way down pit road for four tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment. After the stop, Darnell restarted the race in 37th place.

Darnell held on to the No. 96, despite reports of tight handling. Though the No. 96 team would throw numerous adjustments at the Northern Tool + Equipment Ford, the troubles persisted. The handling issues, coupled with long green flag runs put Darnell laps down before the half-way point of the race.

On lap 166, just five laps after a restart a multi-car collision collected several cars in front of the No. 96. Fortunately, Darnell wheeled the Northern Tool + Equipment Ford through the mess unscathed and capitalized -- gaining three positions on the track.

In the final laps of the race, Darnell avoided several accidents and managed to gain some track position. Although he still reported a tight handling No. 96, Darnell managed to finish the race in 30th position, with no damage to his No. 96 Northern Tool + Equipment Ford.

"It was a frustrating day," said Darnell following the race. "We fought it all day and were just too tight. Track position is real important here and we just didn't have it, so it was a real learning experience out there today. This race was actually tougher than Atlanta because at least when you're there as a driver you can have some control over your car. Here, track position is so important that if you didn't have it, you couldn't make up any ground."

-credit: yr

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya