By Don Ward
SPARTA, Ky. (June 2007) In what came down to the battle of the sexes May 12 in the final laps of the ARCA RE/MAX Series Buckle -Up 150, Erik Darnell came out the winner over challenger Erin Crocker. But Darnells final pass with only four laps remaining gave Kentucky Speedway fans a thrill in the opening weekend of the 2007 race season.
Photo by Don Ward
Erik Darnell receives the winners trophy
after dominating the Buckle-Up
Kentucky 150 ARCA RE/MAX
Series race on May 12.
Darnell had dominated the field for most of the race, leading 80 of 100 laps, but, like many drivers, he chose to pit for fuel and new tires under caution with 17 laps to go. Crocker, meanwhile, opted to stay on the track to take the lead in hopes of holding off all challengers at the end to capture her first ARCA victory. It would have been a classic storybook ending had she succeeded, especially after having won the pole here a year ago and qualifying seventh at this event.
But Darnells fast car and new tires made the difference, as he sped around the 1.5-mile tri-oval track, catching up to Crocker and then overtaking her in Turn 3 before cruising on to Victory Lane. The Roush Racing prodigy crossed the finish line 3.206 seconds ahead of Evernham Motorsports driver Crocker before an announced crowd of 16,221. It was the third-largest winning margin for the series at Kentucky in 14 events.
Bobby Santos III placed third, Scott Lagasse Jr., finished fourth and Chad Blount closed out the top five.
Defending series champion and four-time Kentucky Speedway winner Frank Kimmel maintained his series points lead despite his 12th-place Buckle-Up Kentucky 150 finish that marked the second time this season he placed outside a race Top 10 through seven starts.
It was Darnells first ARCA RE/MAX victory at a track where he had previously raced NASCAR Craftsmen Trucks and competed in the NASCAR Elite Division Southeast Series. The mild-mannered Darnell hardly showed any emotion as he discussed his victory in post-race interviews, but he said he truly was excited.
When a cars like that, it definitely makes my job a lot easier, said Darnell, 24. (Crew Chief) Jeff Campey and all the guys did a great job putting this car together. We were close to a win couple weeks ago at Kansas and couldnt pull it off, so we came here tonight with a little better car. I think it showed.
Darnell started the race fifth and led 51 circuits from Lap 32 to 82 before surrendering the race lead to Crocker on Lap 83 after Gabi DiCarlo brought out the sixth caution period of the race when her Ford made contact with the wall at the exit of Turn 3 on Lap 81.
Photo by Don Ward
Second-place finisher Erin Crocker
talks with defending series
ARCA champion Frank Kimmel
during driver introductions.
Kimmel finished 12th.
The race restarted on Lap 89 with Darnell in ninth. He maintained pace with Crocker and passed her on the low line coming out Turn 3 with four laps remaining in the race.
That last restart was where I knew I was going to have to make up some spots, Darnell said. Some of those guys in front of me didnt protect the outside line. I was able to get a good restart and make up some room before we even got to Turn 1.
They stacked up a bit in the middle in one and two and I had to get on the brakes to avoid hitting some of those guys, but we got our momentum back and were able to drive on up there.
Crocker, 26, who earned her second second-place series finish at Kentucky Speedway through three starts.
Our crew chief made the call to stay out and it was a good call, she said. I thought we had some room at the end, then, he (Darnell) was a few cars back and coming.
I knew he had very fresh tires compared to me, but I didnt know how much of a difference it would make. I just gave it all I had and hoped for the best.
We made an error not putting on tires on the last pit stop (during the final caution period). When I looked up and saw everybody duck down behind me and saw that they took on tires, I knew I was in trouble, she said.
Crocker earned her second career Kentucky Speedway top-five ARCA RE/MAX Series finish.
Lagasse Jr., took his second career top-five finish at Kentucky Speedway and first in the ARCA RE/MAX Series. Lagasse Jr. took the closest win in Kentucky Speedway history in an American Speed Association race on May 7, 2004, by .014 of a second over Wade Day.
The ARCA RE/MAX Series returns to Kentucky on July 13 for the WLWT Channel 5-150. The event precedes the July 14 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race, the Built Ford Tough 225 Presented by the Greater Cincinnati Ford Dealers.