BROOKLYN, Michigan (June 20, 2011) – – Matt Merrell had every reason to be frustrated upon the conclusion of Friday’s RainEater Wiper Blades 200 at Michigan International Speedway (MIS). After keeping the nose clean on his No. 32 Champion Oil Toyota Camry for 80 of the event’s 100 laps, Merrell made his move into the top-10 only to be taken out of competition on the last lap of his MIS debut.
The Lakeville, Minnesota team arrived in the Irish Hills of Michigan with a brand new Toyota Camry hoping to guide Merrell towards another strong run in his inaugural meeting with the two-mile oval.
The teams were given an hour and a half practice on Thursday afternoon to dial in their machines with Merrell eclipsing the 11th fastest lap overall. The team led by ARCA wizard Mike Chaffee made some slight adjustments to their Japanese nameplate hoping to give Merrell a comfortable race setup.
Time trials occurred on Friday morning with Merrell being coached by his team to just make a good lap. With a loose race car underneath him, Merrell negotiated the 19th fastest lap.
Despite their starting position, the veteran ARCA team had little worries about their performance during the 100-lap shootout.
The green flag waived shortly after 5:15 p.m. with Merrell attempting to throttle his way in the field. An early race caution would waive on lap three with Merrell uncharacteristically slipping back to the 21st position.
Waiting for his car to come to life, Merrell would slowly inch his No. 32 Champion Oil Toyota Camry through the running order closing in on the first quarter mark.
When the second yellow flag of the day waived on lap 30, the Portland, Texas native had climbed into the 16th position offering a prime opportunity to enter pit road for tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment.
Restarting the race in the 14th position, Merrell methodically began working his way up the leader board and by the half-way mark; the former USARacing Pro Cup Series star had crafted his Toyota into the 10th position.
The Win-Tron Racing development driver would hover inside the top-10 for the remainder of the event but coming to a green white checkered, Merrell sitting ninth had his sights set on a potential seventh place finish.
In a three-wide battle on lap 99 of the race, Merrell found himself racing with nine-time ARCA champion Frank Kimmel and Chad McCumbee. Kimmel drifted up into the path of Merrell which turned the No. 32 Champion Oil Toyota Camry hard into the outside wall on the backstretch.
Heavily mangled, Merrell left the scene of the incident to slowly creep across the start finish line to avoid a DNF (did not finish). Merrell would be credited with a 15th place finish.
“I always have had a lot of respect for Frank (Kimmel), but this is the second time in three races where I’ve had a problem with the way he drives,” offered Merrell. “I’ve always given him a lot of room and raced him clean but his boldness cost us a good finish for the team and Champion Oil. I hate it. I’m frustrated and disappointed. I just don’t know want to say.”
Win-Tron Racing co car-owner Nate Thiesse offered his comments on Friday’s outcome. “It’s a shame to be taken out the way we were like that on the last lap. I’m all about for good, hard racing but what happened to Matt and us today could have been easily avoidable. It’s discouraging for Matt because of the bad luck he’s had the last couple of races, but this team stands behind him and we know he can get the job done at Winchester next week.”
Next up for the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards is a return to Winchester (Ind.) Speedway for the running of the Winchester ARCA 200 presented by Federated Auto Parts. Merrell will make his inaugural debut at the Indiana short track.
Merrell made his 21st career start in the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards at Michigan International Speedway on Friday. In those 21 outings, Merrell has eight top-fives including runner-up finishes of second at Berlin (Mich.) Raceway and Pocono (Pa.) Raceway (August) in 2009 and 11 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.
For more on Champion Oil, Champion Brands LLC and their products, please logon to championbrands.com or championsusechampion.com.