ARCA - Matt Merrell And Win-Tron Racing Flex Muscle At Salem Speedway
SALEM, May 3, 2011: It appeared that Sunday would be the day that Matt Merrell would finally score a victory in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards at Salem (Ind.) Speedway. However, contact from another competitor in the late stages of the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 instead forced a comeback effort for the Win-Tron Racing team in the first short track race of the season.
Merrell returned to the helm of the No. 32 Champion Brands Dodge Charger after posting back-to-back top-10 finishes at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway – but for the first time this season the competition had to embrace a tight and treacherous half-mile oval, a place that in the past had denied Merrell a happy result.
In the lone practice session on Saturday, Merrell maneuvered the 10th fastest time allowing a prime opportunity for Win-Tron Racing crew chief Mike Chafee to make adjustments to their automobile hoping for a solid starting position for the third race of the season.
During time trials, the Portland, Texas native negotiated the No. 32 Champion Brands Dodge Charger around the track in 18.018 seconds or 110.889 miles per hour lining the Lakeville, Minnesota-based team 12th on the starting grid for the second consecutive race.
Mother Nature drenched the track Sunday morning forcing ARCA officials to tediously dry the race track right up until race time. The field would rev their engines at 2:15 p.m. and assist in the track drying process by running 20 green flag laps at caution speed.
By lap 21 the field was under normal racing conditions with Merrell quickly making a dent in his competition. By lap 50, Merrell had successfully climbed into the top-10 holding steady in the eight position. Two laps later though, a multi-car wreck broke out on the backstretch leaving Merrell no escape as his No. 32 machine slapped the outside wall. Under the yellow flag, Merrell brought his race car to the attention of his veteran team where damage control was assed and corrected.
Bruised but not battered, Merrell returned to competition and began his charge back to the front. Slowly, but surely Merrell utilized lap traffic and short track madness to break back into the top-10 by the halfway mark.
Routine pit stops approaching the 110-mark brought Merrell back to pit road for tires and fuel before surging back into action. Methodically, Merrell worked through the field and charged up to the rear of the No. 52 of Tom Hessert. The two would battle before Merrell out muscled his machine on lap 127 to control the field for 29 laps until the second place competitor lost control of his car in turn two on lap 155 sending both machines around and subsequently giving the top-spot to Josh Williams.
Stalled on the backstretch, Merrell would have to wait for a push from track officials which ultimately cost him his lead-lap status. Another trip to pit road for damage assessment would bring another round of repairs but not enough carnage to keep Merrell out of the competition.
Restarting the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 one lap off the pace, Merrell would patiently wait for another yellow flag to waive which would put the Champion Brands Racing team back on the lead lap.
Armed with some fresh rubber, Merrell was determined to mount a charge in the closing laps of the event. Restarting eighth, Merrell was able to find his way to fifth and despite a green-white-checkered attempt, the 26-year old was unable to make any more gains, capturing his third top-10 finish in a row and second top-five run of the year.
It was also a personal best effort for the former USARacing Pro Cup Series competitor at the Southern Indiana race track. Previously in three tries, Merrell had faired no better than an 11th place finish in 2009.
“I have mixed feelings,” said Merrell. “We didn’t have the best race car in practice or qualifying but this Win-Tron Racing shined again and we had a super fast car in the race. I thought we would have a shot to win it and the next thing I knew I was spinning in turn two. Luckily, we were able to overcome the misfortune from the spin and still bring Win-Tron and Champion Brands another top-five performance.”
He added, “I know that we are close. It will only be a matter of time before we’re able to celebrate in victory lane. I appreciate Nate (Thiesse) and Kevin (Cywinski) who continue to believe in me and give me the opportunity to drive their No. 32, I’m having a blast.”
Thiesse, co-owner of the No. 32 Champion Brands Dodge Charger reflected on Sunday’s performance. “Matt stepped up to the plate and made the best of a potentially bad situation. Believe me, we all would have liked to have gone back to victory lane at Salem, but our time is coming. I appreciate the dedication and hard work of every member of the Win-Tron Racing team. Two incidents later, we still left with a top-five finish. It could have been a lot worse. We’ll go to Toledo and try again.”
With his seventh top-five and ninth top-10 in 16 races, Merrell is third in the ARCA Racing Series championship standings behind nine-time ARCA champion Frank Kimmel and Ty Dillon. Just 80 points separate Merrell from the top-spot.
Next up for the ARCA Racing Series is the Menards 200 set for Sunday, May 15th at Toledo Speedway. Merrell will make his third start at the half-mile oval and look to improve on his fifth place performance in May 2009.