Race Weekend Central

Mario Merenda Masters Mileage Run in Monday Night Racing

Mario Merenda completed a 39-lap stint from the virtual Auto Club Speedway to secure his first win in Monday Night Racing. The University of Oklahoma-backed driver began his nearly 40-lap fuel run in 14th and slowly rose through the ranks as others elected to pit.

The move that won him the race ended up occurring with 24 laps to run when Merenda passed DJ Cummings for second, two laps later Corey Heim yielded the lead of the race to Merenda as Heim opted to split the final 40 laps into two relatively equal blocks.

Heim, running in sixth, was well-positioned to capitalize if the five-car contingency of Merenda, Cummings, Ford Martin, Gary Sexton, and Joshua Slate ran out of fuel. Those five drivers elected to stretch their fuel, a decision that ended up being the right one. It was Merenda, though, who managed to find the right balance of saving fuel to make it to the finish, but not sacrificing too much time on track by doing so.

Cummings finished 3.661 seconds behind Merenda while Martin, Sexton, and Slate completed the top five. Merenda crossed the line with less than one gallon of fuel in his car.

“I didn’t want to pit, I was just going to go to the end and if I ran out I would’ve just coasted around,” Merenda said of his strategy. “There were a lot of worries and a lot of doubts. Me and Gary [Sexton] who is my teammate, he was giving me the fuel numbers, me and him had the same strategy.

“He had crew chief so he had better data than I did but I was doubting him. I was like, ‘There’s no way we can do it,’ and he said ‘No, no, just keep going, keep going, keep saving, keep saving’. At the end, I started getting desperate and turning the car off in the corners. Shout out to him, all credit goes to him for keeping me in the race because if it wasn’t for him I probably would’ve run out of fuel or pitted with Corey Heim and the others,” Merenda said after the race.

Merenda’s evening started off far worse than it ended as he found himself in the wall and parked sideways on the track after contact with Chase Cabre. Merenda and Cabre were running first and second when Cabre hit the rear of Merenda’s car sending him spinning into the wall.

Ten laps before that incident Cabre had tried a slide job on Merenda which resulted in Merenda tapping the rear of Cabre which sent the latter back to third. Whether the lap 17 contact was a follow-up for the lap seven bump is a question you’re unlucky to get an honest answer to.

A short green flag run followed before five cautions for a variety of incidents sprinkled themselves throughout the middle race. The final incident involved another pair of drivers fighting for the lead of the race and another slide job that went amiss.

This time around it was Heim who threw a slider underneath Brandon Hauff. Hauff, with a big run on the top side, closed in on Heim before he could shut the door and the pair made contact. They got away without too much noticeable damage but Hauff’s car, which was one of the fastest of the evening, failed to show similar speed after the incident and he finished the day in 15th as Heim recovered to his aforementioned sixth-place result.

That caution set up the forty-lap run that Merenda executed to perfection to secure the win.

The Monday Night Summer Bash returns next week for the season finale of the NASCAR NextGen portion of the summer with the championship round at the 2007 version of the Daytona International Speedway. The season finale for the iRacing Gen4 cars is slated for the following week at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

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