JOLIET, Illinois (June 6, 2011) – Matt Merrell and Win-Tron Racing had high hopes for Chicagoland Speedway and much like the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards has seen all season long, the No. 32 Champion Oil Toyota Camry was set to be a contender. Unfortunately, a blown tire early in the Messina Wildlife Animal Stopper 150 resulted in a 24th place finish.
Returning to an intermediate track for the first time since 2008 at Kentucky Speedway, Merrell was optimistic about his Chicagoland Speedway debut since the tracks share similar characteristics.
In practice on Friday, Merrell and his Mike Chaffee led group maneuvered the 11th quickest lap. Not exactly thrilled with their performance in the lone session of the weekend, the team including Merrell, Chaffee and car chief Mike Resop went back to the drawing board hoping to find some speed for qualifying on Saturday.
Menards Pole by Ansell qualifying saw a nice turnaround for the Lakeville, Minnesota-based team. Merrell mounted a lap of 30.886 seconds at 174.837 miles per hour lining up the No. 32 Champion Oil Toyota Camry sixth on the starting grid.
An hour before the sixth race of the season was to take the green flag; Mother Nature invaded Chicagoland Speedway and completely drenched the facility, ultimately forcing officials from ARCA, NASCAR and Chicagoland Speedway to postpone the start of the event until the conclusion of the NASCAR Nationwide Series’ STP 300.
Taking the green flag completely in the dark and almost 20 degrees cooler, Merrell quickly marched into the top-five by lap two.
An early race caution would keep the No. 32 Champion Oil Toyota Camry at bay but on the restart, Merrell continued his charge through the field as he negotiated himself into the fourth position by lap 22.
Checking out from fifth place competitor Josh Richards – Merrell would set his sights on the top three which included Kyle Fowler, Ty Dillon and Hal Martin.
As green flag racing continued Richards would chase Merrell back down and move the No. 32 back into fifth by lap 26. A hard-charging Chad Hackenbracht passed the No. 32 Japanese nameplate by lap 30 moving Merrell back into the sixth position.
The team’s night took a dramatic turn on lap 37 when the right front tire blew on the No. 32 Champion Oil Toyota Camry sending Merrell hard into the turn four outside retaining wall. The 26-year old was able to leave the scene under his own power but the team’s night would be cut short and posting their worst finish of the 2011 season thus far.
“You cannot describe that,” said a disappointed Merrell. “We were really just biding our time in the No. 32 Champion Oil Toyota Camry. The car was good, we were going to make a few small adjustments during the first pit stop, but unfortunately, we never made it there. I really had no warning that the tire was going to go, I just went into the corner and up to the wall I went.
I hate it for Champion Oil and these guys on the Win-Tron Racing team. I feel like we easily could have produced another top-five if not a win. All we can do is pick up and move on to Pocono next weekend and try again.”
Nate Thiesse, co-owner of Win-Tron Racing commented on the night’s activities. “It was a tough break. You hate to have bad luck in any race. It just wasn’t our night. Matt, as always did a superior job. We really couldn’t ask for anything more. He was fast and in contention. Sometimes in racing, you just can’t explain circumstances and this was a true definition of that scenario.”
Next up for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards is the first of two trips to Pocono (Pa.) Raceway for the running of the Pocono ARCA 200, round seven of 19 on the 2011 schedule. Merrell will make his third career start at the 2.5-mile triangle on Saturday, June 11 and look to better his runner-up finishing position in 2009 and claim his first stock car victory. Exiting Chicagoland, Merrell has 19career starts in the ARCA Racing Series presented Menards. In those 19 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.
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