FREDRICSKBURG, Va. – Things didn’t go exactly as planned for Willie Mullins and Mullins Racing during the ARCA Racing Series presented by Menards General Tire 200 at Talladega Superspeedway last weekend, but a yeoman’s effort by Mullins led to a solid finish for the team.
Mullins came home 16th in the race Saturday afternoon after it was postponed a day by rain storms that soaked the 2.66-mile track on Friday. The same storms also washed out qualifying, meaning Mullins would start the General Tire 200 from the 11th position based on car owner points from the 2016 season.
Early on Mullins raced inside the top-10 and looked to have a car capable of running with the lead pack. On lap 21 Mullins was running seventh when the No. 69 Chevrolet driven by Will Kimmel made an outside move to try and take the position, which led to Kimmel and Mullins rubbing fenders entering turn one.
The contact cut down the left-front tire on Mullins’ No. 34 Bugsy’s Auto Repair Ford two laps later, forcing him to come down pit road for service to change the tire. As a result, Mullins fell a lap down.
“I was running in the top-10 for most of the first half of the race and then we got hit by Will Kimmel in the left-front tire and that caused us to cut a front tire down,” Mullins explained. “We got a lap down changing that and then pretty much just kept trying to dig out of a hole all day trying to get that lap back.”
Mullins was fortunate to miss the dreaded ‘Big One,’ which struck on lap 36 and eliminated several contending cars including Kimmel, Kyle Weatherman, Noah Gragson and Dalton Sargeant. That allowed him to make up some ground, but he could never quite get in position to get the lap back he lost when he cut down his left-front tire.
“We worked and worked and the end of the race just happened and we never could get that lap back,” Mullins said. “We just kind of got stuck way back in 16th.”
Despite bringing the car home in one piece with a top-20 finish, Mullins said he wasn’t content. He believes Mullins Racing is capable of much more and would have liked an opportunity to show that Saturday at Talladega.
“We’re never content with that kind of finish. We’re always looking to finish in the top-10,” Mullins said. “Once we finished inside the top-10 in 2016 we know now that we have a top-10 car. So every time we got to a restrictor plate track we’re looking to be in contention for a top-five or top-10 every single time. So Saturday left us with a bit of a sour taste in our mouth.
While not happy with the finish, Mullins said he was very happy with the performance of his team of crew members, including Kyle Belmont, who made his debut as crew chief for the team Saturday at Talladega.
“We’re very pleased with how the team was functioning as a group. We had Andy Houston as our spotter and Kyle Belmont as our crew chief on the box for the race,” Mullins said. “Everything worked out really well in that aspect. We were very pleased with our teams performance, just the unfortunate circumstances on the track put us behind the eight ball.”
Mullins Racing will now focus on the upcoming Menards 200 presented by Federated Car Care, which will be held at Minnesota’s Elko Speedway on June 3. For the first time the team plans to field two cars at Elko, one for Mullins and a second for veteran Virginia short track driver Robert Bruce, who will be attempting to make his ARCA Racing Series debut.
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