TALLADEGA, Alabama (April 18, 2011) – – A stellar third place finish in the season-opener at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway for Win-Tron Racing opened the doors for Portland, Texas native Matt Merrell to once again take the controls of the No. 32 Champion Brands Toyota Camry in the postponed 3 Amigos 250 Saturday morning from Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.
And for the second consecutive race, Merrell looked more like a veteran rather than an inexperienced rookie when it comes to the intense, mind boggling restrictor plate racing. Armed with the same Toyota Camry that Merrell wheeled at Daytona, the team utilized the three hour practice on Thursday to dial in their newly sponsored automobile.
Producing the 20th fastest time overall, Merrell and his team went to work with veteran crew chief Mike Chafee to made adjustments to their machine in hopes of find additional speed for qualifying. In time trials, Merrell picked up the pace considerably and qualified his No. 32 Champion Brands Toyota Camry 12th in the 39-car field.
The excitement to start the second race of the 2011 ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards season would be delayed until Saturday morning after severe storms rattled through the Talladega area shortly before the original start time on Friday afternoon, ultimately forcing officials to move the event to 8:00 a.m. the next morning.
Once the green flag flew, Merrell blasted his Japanese nameplate quickly into the top-10. By lap six, Merrell found himself sitting ninth. Less than 10 laps later, the No. 32 was on the move and had climbed into the sixth position.
When Terry Jones lost a motor on lap 16, Chaffee elected to bring his protégé down pit road for fuel only – deciding to utilize some pit strategy.
Restarting just outside the top-10, the No. 32 Champion Brands Toyota Camry rocketed back to the front and by lap 27 had moved into the fifth position.
Throughout the remainder of the 94-lap event, the see-saw battle of the draft saw the No. 32 fluctuate between sixth and eighth respectively.
When the final restart of the day came with less than eight laps remaining, Merrell restarted sixth but found himself attacked by a slew of race cars in the draft which resulted in the No. 32 being shuffled back to the 10th position when the checkered flag was thrown.
“The race was pretty intense,” said Merrell, who is only one of five drivers to finish inside the top-10 in both races thus far this season. “We had a good Champion Brands Toyota Camry, we just couldn’t get lined up with the right partners at the end and it hurt us for a better finish. I continue to be thankful to Champion Brands, Nate (Thiesse, Win-Tron Racing, co-car owner), Kevin (Cywinski, Win-Tron Racing, co-car owner) for the opportunity to drive their race car. I hate that we didn’t get a win or another top-five but we’ve definitely had a good start to the season.”
Thiesse, who served as the backstretch spotter for Merrell during the race offered his thoughts. “Matt continues to impress everyone at Win-Tron Racing. He does a magnificent job in the draft. He was able to come from the back to the front on multiple occasions. Unfortunately, we just ran out of time. This was our first race with Champion Brands aboard and we’re all happy with the results.”
With his 15th career ARCA Racing Series start in the rear-view mirror, Merrell sits fifth in the ARCA Racing Series championships standings just 55 markers behind point’s leader Bobby Gerhart entering the next ARCA race on the schedule, the Kentuckiana Ford Dealers 200 at Salem (Ind.) Speedway set for Sunday, May 1.
Further information including driver opportunities with Win-Tron Racing is available by visiting win-tronracing.com http://www.win-tronracing.com/ or contacting Nate Thiesse at 952.469.1839.