*Luck O' The Irish Hills: It's Darnell In Photo Finish *Numbers Game: No Driver's Dominated So Far *A Familiar Face Returns To The Mile: Bliss Is Back Darnell Wins In Michigan DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 17, 2008) -- If you're going to break a...
*Luck O' The Irish Hills: It's Darnell In Photo Finish
*Numbers Game: No Driver's Dominated So Far
*A Familiar Face Returns To The Mile: Bliss Is Back
Darnell Wins In Michigan
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 17, 2008) -- If you're going to break a winless streak, might as well do it in style.
Roush Fenway Racing, Ford and driver Erik Darnell (No. 99 Northern Tool + Equipment Ford) had all been winless nine races into the 2008 season.
On Saturday, in the Irish Hills of Michigan, Darnell broke the drought, winning the Cool City Customs 200 in a side-by-side dash down the frontstretch to the checkered flag. Darnell edged Johnny Benson (No. 23 Exide Batteries Toyota) by .005 seconds, the closest finish in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series history since implementation of electronic scoring.
"I think the finish was a little more exciting than I wanted it to be," said Darnell. "It definitely makes for exciting racing, the way these trucks go around here."
Runner-up Benson held on and gave it his all. "I saw the win in grasp and got beat at the line," Benson said of his mad dash to the checkered flag. "The fans couldn't have seen a better race. I don't think it's going to get any better than that."
It's been 29 races since Darnell visited Victory Lane. His first NASCAR career win came in 2007 at Kansas Speedway. His win marks the 49th win for Jack Roush and Roush Fenway Racing in the series.
A Ford hadn't won since Travis Kvapil's victory in Las Vegas last September.
Ford and Roush are no strangers to winning at Michigan. Ford holds the most wins by a manufacturer with four.
Greg Biffle brought back-to-back wins in the first two years the series raced at the track. Last year's Michigan race was one of Kvapil's four 2007 victories .
It's A Numbers Game For 2008
Erik Darnell's impressive win at Michigan adds to the numbers that are stacking up this season.
To date, the series has seen eight different winners in the first 10 races. Of those eight drivers, three -- Matt Crafton (No. 88 Menards Chevrolet), Donny Lia (No. 71 TRG Chevrolet), and Scott Speed (No. 22 Red Bull Toyota) -- scored their first win in the series, and two of those, Speed and Lia, are Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidates.
Not only is the series seeing a rotation of different drivers in Victory Lane, but five of those drivers were guided by crew chiefs who had never ended the race with the checkered flag. Matt Puccia (No. 99), Doug Wolcott (No. 22 Red Bull Toyota), Bud Haefele (No. 88 Menards Chevrolet), Jason Miller (No. 71 TRG Chevrolet) and Marcus Richmond (No. 18 BHR VA Dodge) each have celebrated in Victory Lane so far this season.
The championship has been a virtual merry-go-round with the lead changing five times among four drivers in as many races.
Benson is the latest leader by 15 points over 2006 champion Todd Bodine (No. 30 Lumber Liquidators Toyota). This is the first time Benson has headed the NASCAR Craftsman Truck standings.
Etc. & Quotable
Bliss Is Back ... Mike Bliss will jump behind the wheel of the No. 51 Miccosukee Resorts Toyota this weekend. Bliss, the 2002 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion, knows his way around the mile track. He won the pole in 1996 and took the checkered flag in 1998.
"I am excited to race in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series again," said Bliss, who is fighting for the NASCAR Nationwide Series title. "I really enjoy driving in the truck series, there is a lot of competition out there and they are a lot of fun to drive," he added.
"The No. 51 Billy Ballew Motorsports truck looks to be the truck to beat this season and I'm looking forward to seeing what we can do this week in Milwaukee."
Bliss knows what this team is after this year. "I've had some success at the track and I hope I can bring home a strong finish for Billy Ballew and keep him up there in the Owners Points Championship standings."
The driver will have the talented guidance of crew chief Richie Wauters. Wauters, a Green Bay, Wis., native, is looking forward to racing at home.
"Its always nice to be in Milwaukee with my family and friends there," he said. "We always try to run the best we can; we race for the wins," he added. "We are bringing the truck we won with in Phoenix so it should be a great race."
Wauters is also looking forward to working with Bliss. "He is a competitive driver in every series he has run in and has had some great finishes in Milwaukee, not to mention a win," he said.
Wallace Duo ... The Wallace family will be in force at The Mile. Chrissy Wallace will return to the series in the No. 03 Germain Toyota. Her father, Mike Wallace, driver of the No. 7 GEICO Toyota in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and former winner at the track, will spot for his youngest daughter in Friday night's race.
"Really, everything I know about Milwaukee has come from my dad," said Chrissy. "He's talked about how the track is and what you gotta do to get a good lap there."
"I'm confident (crew chief) Mike Abner and the Germain Racing crew will have a very good Germain Toyota for me to race, and I look forward to bringing home a good finish," added the driver.
Chrissy Wallace made her series debut at Martinsville in March where she finished 18th.
Mile Masters ... The leader of wins at mile-long tracks among both active and inactive drivers is Ron Hornaday Jr. with nine victories -- one on every one of the seven tracks on which he has competed since 1995. Right behind him is his teammate, Jack Sprague, with seven.
Active drivers with three or more mile-track victories are Benson with four; and Ted Musgrave, Mike Skinner and Dennis Setzer with three each.
What does this have to do with this Mile? These drivers have all found Victory Lane.
Grab Your Bowling Shoes ... A tradition continues in Milwaukee. For the fifth year, the NCTS "Bowling Bonanza" will take place on Thursday, June 19.
Spearheaded by Toyota, teams of drivers, their crew members, friends, family and the media will compete for strikes and spares. All in good fun, of course.
"I'm looking forward to bowling with the media this week. It's a great opportunity to get together and just hang out," said Justin Marks (No. 9 Construct Corps Toyota), who hopes to show his skills on the lanes just as on the track this week.
Double Duty ... Bliss and several other drivers will run between truck and Nationwide Series garages this weekend in Milwaukee.
Terry Cook (No. 60 Wyler.com Toyota) will hop back and forth from his fulltime truck ride over to pilot the No. 91 Chevrolet.
Young driver Landon Cassill will return to the No. 46 Morgan-Dollar Chevrolet in addition to his NASCAR Nationwide Series duties.
Rookies Hang Tough In Michigan
Rookies continue to hang tough among the veterans. Scott Speed (No. 22 Red Bull Toyota) and Colin Braun (No. 6 Con-way Freight Ford) kept their trucks among the top 10 at Michigan. Speed ended the day with a third-place finish while Braun started and finished in sixth.
Justin Marks makes a jump in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year points battle, moving up to second behind Braun.
Marks looks to carry that momentum to Milwaukee, a track where he has some experience. After leading 59 laps, Marks finished second in the 2007 ARCA RE/MAX Series race at The Mile.
"I'm excited about getting back to The Mile. We ran really well there last year and led a bunch of laps," said Marks. "The track races really well, it's fun and unique. I feel like I can get around The Mile pretty good and I'm anxious to see what we can do with the truck there," he added.
The Germain Racing driver can't rest too easily. He's got the same number of points as Donny Lia (No. 71 TRG Chevrolet).
Both drivers finished in the top-15 at Michigan. Marks was 13th. Lia came on strong at the finish to land the 12th spot.
The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will end its run of seven consecutive races as competitors head to the land of blues, BBQ and Graceland. The competition in the June 28 O'Reilly 200 at Memphis Motorsports Park figures to be as hot as the weather.
Last year's winner, Travis Kvapil, moved to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and won't be able to defend his second victory at the 3/4-mile track.
Still, four former winners of five races expect to compete in the season's third short-track race.
In The Loop:
Johnny Benson picked the right time to grab the points lead.
The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series has had four different points leaders in the past four races. That trend my end this weekend.
Benson has been phenomenal at Milwaukee, winning the last two races there and racking up some impressive statistics.
Over those two wins, Benson had a Driver Rating of 140.6, an Average Running Position of 2.4, 94 Fastest Laps Run and has run all 400 Laps in the top 15.
But Benson has plenty of competition in hot pursuit. Probably the biggest threat to his points lead is Ron Hornaday Jr., who sits 21 points back in third place and is also very strong at Milwaukee.
Hornaday holds some of the top stats at Milwaukee since 2005. He leads the series and Driver Rating (121.0) and is second in Average Running Position (4.9), Fastest Laps Run (74) and Laps in the Top 15 percentage (95.8 percent).
Also watch for a strong run from Jack Sprague, who is looking to break a 34-race winless drought. Sprague is second in Milwaukee Driver Rating with 117.7 and first in Average Running Position (3.4) and Laps in the Top 15 percentage (99.3 percent) and fourth in Fastest Laps Run (59). Sprague won at Milwaukee in 1996 and has scored seven top-fives in 11 starts there. He is also a qualifying wizard at Milwaukee, starting in the top 10 in all 11 of his starts at the one-mile track.
Chevrolet and Ford each have won four times at The Milwaukee Mile. The manufacturer snapped a long winless streak in Michigan, although a Ford last visited The Mile's Victory Lane in 2002 with Terry Cook.
Toyota, with the help of Mike Skinner (No. 5 Toyota Tundra Toyota) and Johnny Benson (No. 23 Exide Batteries Toyota) have dominated The Mile over the past two seasons. Skinner has held the pole and Benson has won the previous two races.
Director's Take: Wayne's Words
"Going back to The Milwaukee Mile is always a special trip. It's one of four tracks that have been on the schedule since 1995 and it's the first race I worked as the Series Director.
"I'd heard how competitive this new series was and little did I know what we'd see that day. What we saw was one of the most dramatic races any fan could ask for.
"Mike Skinner had Richard Childress's black No. 3 firing on all cylinders but it almost wasn't enough. Dennis Setzer, one of my neighbors from the Hickory, N.C., area, had a part-time opportunity and did he make the most of it.
"The race was just 125 laps and for the last 25 it was Skinner, then Setzer, then Skinner, Setzer again and finally -- with two laps from the end -- Mike put away the victory by less than a third of a second.
"Nobody could believe it; I couldn't believe it.
"But I knew right then that I'd come to the right place to race and nothing has happened to change that opinion. In fact, it's not opinion any longer; it's fact.
"What's neat about the whole day is that 13 years later many of the same drivers who ran up front -- Skinner, Setzer, Jack Sprague, and Ron Hornaday Jr. -- are the ones to beat on Friday night.
"I certainly couldn't have predicted that. But there's never anything predictable about the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Not in 1995; not today." -- Wayne Auton, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Director
The Race: Camping World RV Sales 200
The Place: The Milwaukee Mile
The Date: June 20, 2008
The Time: 9 p.m. (ET)
Race Distance: 200 miles / 200 laps
Track Layout: 1-mile oval
TV: SPEED, 8:30 p.m. (ET)
2007 Winner: Johnny Benson
2007 Pole: Mike Skinner
Schedule: Friday -- Practice, 11:00 am-12:15 pm; Final practice, 12:45 pm-2:00 pm; Qualifying, 5:30 pm