Matt Merrell Delivers Electrifying Performance In Daytona Debut
DAYTONA BEACH, Florida (February 14, 2011) - - He never missed a beat.
After being out of an ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards race car for a little over a year, Matt Merrell reunited with Lakeville, Minnesota's Win-Tron Racing for the 2011 season-opener at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway looking to rekindle some of their magic from the past. And when the checkered flag was thrown, it was evident that the magic never faded.
Having only tested at the newly repaved 2.5-mile superspeedway once before practice on Thursday, Merrell, the Portland, Texas native was relying on the craftiness of his Win-Tron Racing team led by crew chief wizard Mike Chaffee.
During the four-hour practice run on Thursday, Merrell in the No. 32 Bemm Boatworks / Red Line Oil Toyota Camry placed seventh overall in the rundown after participating in a light draft with some of his other competitors.
"The car is pretty good," said Merrell. "I think we would like it to be a little faster but we still have some time to do that. I'm just thankful to be back with these guys and be here at Daytona."
Qualifying took place on Friday afternoon and the Win-Tron Racing team was one of the nice surprises during the session as Merrell had stalked his Toyota Camry into the top-five before landing fourth overall.
"I'm pretty stoked about the race," sounded Merrell. "The guys made some changes to the car before qualifying and it's obvious we went in the right direction. I'm enjoying myself immensely in Daytona and I'm just hoping that we'll have a good run in the race."
At the start of the 80-lap event, Merrell quickly placed his Toyota Camry on the yellow line following leaders Kyle Fowler, Steve Arpin and Bobby Gerhart around the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
The first yellow flag of the day waived on lap four for a one-car incident involving the No. 94 of Brett Hudson. Merrell remained quiet on the radio but anxious to get back to green-flag conditions.
Back to racing, Merrell continued to keep his machine in the top-five until Tom Hessert was turned on lap 18 bringing out the second yellow flag of the event. It was during the yellow that the former USARacing Pro Cup Series driver brought his red and white machine to the attention of his team where Sunoco Racing fuel was inserted into the No. 32 Bemm Boatworks / Red Line Oil Toyota Camry.
Restarting mid-pack, Merrell found a strong group of race cars where he quickly made his way back to the front.
The red flag would be displayed after a lap 45 incident involving the No. 58 of Chad Hackenbracht. During the cessation, Merrell remained focused inside the cockpit trying to plan a strategy inside his head for the approaching thirty laps.
Once racing resumed, Merrell continued to follow the same routine he had been doing most of the race, keeping his automobile pinned to the bottom of the race track and sucked up tightly in the lead draft.
The "big one" broke out on lap 64 with Merrell well-ahead of the carnage. Setting up for nearly a 10-lap shootout, the development driver was paying close attention to the lead cars of Bobby Gerhart, Chris Buescher and Joey Licata Jr., studying his prey and ready to pounce on any hiccups they would display.
Tucked in fourth and within inches of a six-car draft coming to the white flag, Merrell took advantage of Licata Jr., jumping his Dodge to the outside line with Merrell quickly slamming the door shut and moving into the podium position.
Merrell gave one last attempt to pass the No. 17 of Buescher coming to the checkered flag but ran out of time. The Win-Tron Racing team led the brigade of Toyotas with their third place finish ahead of fellow Toyota teammate Jason Bowles in the fifth position.
"That was so much fun," said the 26-year old Merrell who delivered his sixth top-five of his career in 14 races. "I have to thank everyone on the Win-Tron Racing team. Nate (Thiesse, co-owner) and Kevin (Cywinski, co-owner) called me a couple weeks ago and offered me the opportunity of a lifetime and while we didn't take the win, I think we made the best of the opportunity. This was a race I will not forget."
Thiesse expressed his thoughts on Merrell's performance in his superspeedway debut. "Matt did an exceptional job," said Thiesse, a former driver himself. "He was a rookie Saturday but he looked more like a veteran. He knew what to do and when and he listened to the team very well. It was his effort behind the wheel that gave us a great foundation to start the season. Hopefully, we can put something together to put Matt back in the seat for Talladega."
-source: win-tron racing