If you want to get your first win in NASCAR there’s really no better place to do it than at one of the Marquee races of the year.Ã‚Â Trevor Bayne did it at the Daytona 500 and for the second time this year we have a first time winner at a big time race.Ã‚Â Paul Menard took his first win in the sprint cup series yesterday in the Brickyard 400 at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway(IMS).Ã‚Â And while some consider the Brickyard 400 NASCARÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s second-most prestigious event, this is the race Menard, 30, has always wanted to win.
The Menard family has a long connection with IMS.Ã‚Â John Menard, Paul’s father, started supporting this track back in the late 70’s and then went on to owning an Indy Racing League team which won a championship with none other than fellow Hoosier, Tony Stewart behind the wheel for him.Ã‚Â For more than 30 years John Menard has been a loyal supporter of race teams in both open-wheel and stock cars. On Sunday, his investment paid off in the best possible way, his sonÃ‚Â PaulÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first victory at the track he holds closest in his heart.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“PaulÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s been coming here since we carried him in at 3 years old,Ã¢â‚¬Â John Menard said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I remember sneaking him into the garage in an engine box because he was too young to be in here. All his life he wanted to race.”
Ã¢â‚¬Å“HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s such a good boy. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a good young man. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s persevered through it all and for the family, for him, for everybody itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s unbelievable.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Paul’s wordsÃ‚Â sum up the feelings of a first win at your home track.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Man, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve been coming here for a long, long time, but not nearly as long as my dad,Ã¢â‚¬Â Paul Menard said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“To be the first one after all those years of him trying to win a race at Indy, (itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s) very special.Ã¢â‚¬Â
“My first year here was 1989, that I can remember anyway — I think I was here when I was 3 or 4 years old, too,” said Menard, whose father, John Menard, has fielded Indy Cars for a variety of drivers. “I just spent a lot of time in the garage area. I didn’t miss an Indy 500 from 1989 to 2003.
“I was here for the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994. It’s just a really special place for my family and myself.”
Jeff Gordon, who happened to win that inaugural Brickyard 400 here back in 1994 was the only one who was challenging Menard at the end.Ã‚Â While Menard had conserved fuel until 3 laps to go when his crew chief told him to let loose, Jeff Gordon was charging through the field behind him and trying to run him down.Ã‚Â Sitting in 12th with 12 laps to go Gordon was running a second to a second and a half faster than the leader for most of those last 12 laps.Ã‚Â And although it looked like Gordon was going to catch Menard there at the end, Paul’s #27 Nibco Chevy had just enough fuel and just enough power to hold off Gordon through the final lap.
“I really enjoyed there at the end being in a position to not have to conserve fuel,” Gordon said. “It was a lot of fun to run hard and try to chase these guys down, even though we came up short. It’s the position everybody prefers to be in, doesn’t mean you’re always going to win the race that way.”
“It’s been a while since we had a car like that, here at Indy — just a flawless effort by the team,” Gordon said. “The pit stops were fantastic. I thought Alan called a great race. When we came off pit road the last time, we were able to get ahead of Harvick, I thought that was a huge moment for us. That put us in position to win.
“I knew that shortly after that, there were some guys that were going to try to stretch it on fuel and all I could do is run as hard as I could to put pressure on them and hope that I got there in time. We got there just a little bit short.
“Paul did a great job saving fuel because when I got there, even Regan Smith and other guys, they were still pretty much checking up when I got there. It was easy to get by them. But Paul had saved enough to where he could go back to a full pace. By that time, my car was just too tight behind him.”
“Just because he’s been here so much as a kid experiencing Indy, he knows how special it is to compete here, let alone win here,” Gordon said. “So I think the feelings are probably very similar. He probably has a greater appreciation for it than I did in ’94, because while I was watching from a distance and my heroes were Indy 500 drivers, I wasn’t in the garage like he was.”
“So he could probably appreciate it even more.”
The points race also had a few shake ups with some drivers having better finishes that was expected, and front runners who just didn’t have the greatest of days.Ã‚Â Carl Edwards will still head into next week with the points lead however it has been reduced to only 11 points.Ã‚Â Tony Stewart managed to pull off a 6th place finish despite many problems and issues both on the track and in the pits, and gained 2 spots to the 9th place position.Ã‚Â Dale Earnhardt Jr led for a few laps and definitely had a great car ended up with a 16th place finish and a loss of one points position to 10th, still in chase contention but closer to the bubble than anyone wants to be at this point in the season with only 6 more races to go until the chase.