Roush-Fenway Racing driver Erik Darnell was among 13 drivers shaking down their ARCA RE/MAX Series cars today at Kentucky Speedway in preparation for the May 12 "Buckle-Up Kentucky 150."

The event will feature a prerace concert with country music artist Josh Gracin and open the five-weekend Kentucky Speedway season that will also consist of visits by the NASCAR Busch Series June 15-16, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and ARCA RE/MAX Series July 13-14 as well as the IndyCar and Indy Pro Series Aug. 10-11.

Darnell, who primarily competes in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, arrived at today's open test fresh off a successful weekend at Kansas Speedway where he scored his first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series win Saturday and nailed down a second-place finish in his first ARCA RE/MAX Series start of the season Friday.

He hopes to carry his Kansas momentum forward to the "Buckle-Up Kentucky 150" next weekend on a track where he's made seven career starts since 2002 and most recently delivered a ninth-place NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series finish in 2006.

"It was nice to go out to Kansas and run the way we did because we started out the year struggling. The first four (NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series) races of the year we didn't have a top-10 finish and we really couldn't figure out what was going on," Darnell said.

"I definitely think running the ARCA RE/MAX Series race helped me out. I was able to get some laps on the track to get an idea of what was going to go on with track changes throughout the day. We were able to finish second which was a good start for our Roush-Fenway team which just started up and is going to run a couple races this year. Then, to go out and win the truck race, that was a pretty cool deal.

"For young drivers like myself, I only have a year of experience in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series under my belt, I'm still trying to get the hand of these bigger tracks and ARCA RE/MAX Series races play a big role in getting us up to speed. The experience will help us out down the road."

The Kentucky Governor's Highway Safety Program will use the race as a platform to advocate safe driving and statewide seatbelt use for a second straight year. Last year, a reported 68 percent of Kentucky drivers regularly used seatbelts. That figure is third lowest in the United States and well below the 82 percent national average.

"The Kentucky State Police, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement, county sheriffs and local law enforcement are continuing their joint effort to reduce motor vehicle crashes in the Commonwealth. As partners in this great effort, we're excited to kick off our May seatbelt campaign with the 'Buckle-Up 150,'" Kentucky State Police Capt. Tim Lucas said.

"Kentucky Speedway will serve as our premier venue to raise awareness about the importance of seatbelt safety. Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death in the United States. Wearing safety belts is the easiest and most effective way of reducing highway deaths and injuries.

As of today, there have been 247 lives lost in the Commonwealth since January 1 of this year. It's certainly a very concerning and very appalling number. We estimate that 70 to 75 lives would've been saved if all those occupants were buckled up. We're working aggressively across the state to enforce our primary seatbelt law so we can ultimately save lives," he added.

Other ARCA RE/MAX Series drivers who took advantage of the open test time were Steve Blackburn, James Buescher, Ken Butler, Gabi DiCarlo, Mark Dimitroff, Jesus Hernandez, Richard Johns, Bryan Silas, Billy Tanner, Michelle Thierault and Alex Yontz.

Tickets for Kentucky Speedway's opening weekend and all 2007 race events are on sale now and can be reserved online through the tickets pages of this Web site, by phone at 888-652-RACE (7223), through Kentucky Speedway ticket offices in the Sparta, Ky., Fan Center off of Ky. Ste. Rte. 35 North and the Ft. Mitchell, Ky., corporate office at 400 Buttermilk Pike, Suite 100, near The Montgomery Inn, as well as through area Meijer stores.

Story by Mike Schmaltz

~ Kentucky Speedway ~