Matt Merrell Gives Gallant Effort At New Jersey Motorsports Park
Topics: Matt Merrell, ModSpace 150
Knight Motorsports Management
May 24, 2011
MILLVILLE, New Jersey (May 24, 2011) - - Win-Tron Racing driver Matt Merrell made his ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards road racing debut Sunday at New Jersey Motorsports Park (NJMP) and despite his lack of experience making left and right turns, the driver of the No. 32 Champion Brands Toyota Camry gave a gallant effort in the ModSpace 150.
With the leadership of veteran crew chief Mike Chaffee and car chief Mike Resop, the Portland, Texas native was relying on the Lakeville, Minnesota’s prior experience at the 12-turn, 2.3-mile Thunderbolt Raceway to aid him towards a strong run.
In practice on Saturday, Merrell who entered the fifth race of the season on a surge of four consecutive top-10 finishes posted the ninth and 12th fastest laps respectively in the two practice sessions leading up to Menards Pole by Ansell qualifying.
In time trials, Merrell negotiated the Millville, New Jersey track in 84.397 seconds at 95.975 miles per hour lining up the No. 32 Champion Brands Toyota Camry just outside the top-10 in 11th.
At the start of the ModSpace 150, Merrell quickly found a hole and hovered safely in the top-12 during the early stages of the event. By lap 20, Merrell moved himself into the top-10 with coaching from his team.
When the caution flag waived on lap 22, Chaffee elected to bring his protégé down pit road for four tires and fuel, effectively sending their driver back into competition.
Back to racing, Merrell found himself sitting comfortably in the top-10 utilizing the lone road course of the season to learn from the aces around him, yet still mounting impressive lap times.
The yellow flag waived for a second time on lap 35 but Chaffee brought his driver to pit road before the pace car picked up the field opting for some pit strategy where the team re-fueled their machine and sent Merrell back into competition.
The crafty move by Chaffee vaulted Merrell in the running order as other lead lap machines elected to make a trip down pit lane during the caution flag which restarted the No. 32 Champion Brands Toyota Camry in the top-three.
Despite his inexperience at NJMP, Merrell kept his wheels on the pavement and by lap 40 maintained his third place position. Five laps later, Merrell was able to inch up the running order to second before in the closing stages of the race, the field began to gobble up on the former USARacing Pro Cup Series star shuffling the 26-year old back to seventh by lap 50.
With just 10 laps remaining, the yellow flag flew once again with the Win-Tron Racing team locked solidly in the top-10. Hoping to fend off a slew of challengers including Ty Dillon, Grant Enfinger, Bryan Silas and Tim Cowen on the restart, Merrell was prepared to go into defensive mode, if necessary as it was evident that track position was everything.
Fending off Enfinger and Silas on the restart, Merrell appeared to have his fifth top-10 of the year in the books but contact in turn one on the last lap sent the No. 32 Champion Brands Toyota Camry into an aggressive spin where an obviously frustrated Merrell had to grab a high gear and leave the scene under his own power to maintain a spot on the lead lap but had to settle for a 14th place finish.
“It’s tough to swallow what happened because we had a good Champion Brands Toyota,” said Merrell. “The car was really good all weekend long. I was able to pick up on some things during the race that kept us in the top-10, but getting dumped like we did wasn’t what I expected. I just have to thank Win-Tron Racing and Champion Brands for the opportunity.
It looked like for a while, we were going to make up some ground on Ty (Dillon), but we just have to take the finish and move on and hope we make a dent down the road.”
Nate Thiesse, co-owner of Win-Tron Racing commented on Merrell’s effort in his inaugural road racing debut. “We could not ask for much more from Matt. He did a superior job from practice to qualifying and all the way through the race. He was a victim of circumstances at the end of the race and unfortunately it cost us a top-10 finish. Matt though being the driver he is kept his composure and took the checkered flag. We’re proud of him.”
The lone road racing contest of the year signified the fourth race that Champion Brands heeded the role as the primary sponsor for the Lakeville, Minnesota-based team. Headquartered in Clinton, Missouri Champion Brands LLC produces and blends more than 300 products including fuel, oil and engine additives and lubricants for the automotive, heavy truck, agricultural and specialty markets.
Exiting New Jersey, Merrell slipped to third in the ARCA Racing Series championship standings 35 points behind leader second place competitor Frank Kimmel and 125 markers behind current leader Ty Dillon.
Next up for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards is the first stop of the year at a 1.5-mile track. The Messina Animal Wildlife Stopper 150 from Chicagoland Speedway is set for Saturday June 4th set to launch at 5:00 p.m. live on SPEED. Last year, Win-Tron Racing finished sixth after starting fifth with Justin Marks aboard.
Merrell made his 18th career start in the ARCA Racing Series presented Menards at NJMP Sunday. In his previous 17 outings, Merrell has eight top-fives including runner-up finishes of second at Berlin (Mich.) Raceway and Pocono (Pa.) Raceway (August) in 2009 and 10 top-10s. His best start position for Win-Tron Racing occurred at the tricky triangle of Pocono (Pa.) Raceway where he qualified his No. 32 CollinsHope.org Dodge Charger second in June of 2009.
Further information including driver opportunities with Win-Tron Racing is available by visiting win-tronracing.com or contacting Nate Thiesse at 952.469.1839.
TEAM COMMUNICATIONS CONTACT:
NAME: Chris Knight, Knight Motorsports Management
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