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Menard stretches fuel to win Brickyard 400

NASCAR Sprint Cup
Sunday, July 31, 2011

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Paul Menard does a victory burnout

Years ago, as a garage rat at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Paul Menard dreamed of winning a race at the vaunted Brickyard.

On Sunday, the dream came true. In a season full of improbable first-time winners in NASCAR’s foremost races, Menard, 30, stretched his fuel mileage and held off charging Jeff Gordon to win the Brickyard 400 at the 2.5-mile track.

The victory was Menard’s first as a Sprint Cup driver, and it catapulted him into the conversation for a wild-card berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Gordon, who closed rapidly over the final five laps, crossed the finish line 0.725 seconds behind the season’s fourth first-time winner.



“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 IndyCars 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.”

Regan Smith, who notched his first career win in the Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington in May, came home third, followed by Jamie McMurray, last year’s Brickyard winner. Matt Kenseth ran fifth, and Tony Stewart salvaged a sixth-place result despite a litany of problems throughout the race.

Greg Biffle, Mark Martin, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch completed the top 10.

Smith, who counts Menard as one of his best friends, promised to attend Menard’s victory celebration, just as Menard joined Smith after the victory in Darlington.

“He always talks about coming up here,” Smith said. “He always talks about how much he loves this place. I know if he had to highlight one race to get his first win, I’m sure he’ll tell you in a minute he couldn’t be happier.

“It’s cool. You only get one chance to get your first win. It’s a special thing, especially when you do it here.”

Menard joined Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne and Smith as first-time winners on NASCAR’s biggest stages. Unlike Bayne, who is not running a full Cup schedule, and Smith, who is 26th in points, Menard put himself in position to claim one of the two wild-card spots available to the highest-ranking race winners in positions 11-20 in points.

Menard improved five positions to 14th in the standings, passing polesitter David Ragan, who dropped three places to 16th after finishing 23rd Sunday. With six races left before the field for the Chase is set at Richmond, Denny Hamlin, Menard and Ragan are the only drivers in positions 11-20 with victories. Hamlin is 11th.

Menard, in his first season with Richard Childress Racing, also is the first qualifier for the Sprint Summer Showdown, in which he and the winners of the next four Cup races will try to claim a $3 million bonus by winning Sept. 4 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. The bonus will be split three ways, with $1 million each going to the driver, a fan and the driver’s designated charity.

Gordon, who won the inaugural Cup race at Indy in 1994, said Menard perhaps can savor his first win at the Brickyard even more than he did 17 years ago.

“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.”

Notes: Menard is the fourth driver to get his first Cup win this year. .......The victory was the ninth straight at the Brickyard for Chevrolet. … Menard’s crew chief, Slugger Labbe, picked up his fifth victory and added the Brickyard trophy to his marquee win in the 2003 Daytona 500, when he was crew chief for Michael Waltrip at Dale Earnhardt Inc.

QUOTES

ROBBY GORDON (No. 7 SPEED Energy Dodge, 43rd): "The motor just blew."

DAVID REUTIMANN (No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota, 36th): "We were moving forward after a bad start, trying to get track position. We cut a right front tire going into (Turn) 3. I can't think of a worse place to do it. We hit the wall hard with the right front."

SCOTT SPEED (No. 37 Max Q Motorsports Ford, 39th): "We had a vibration on the right side. It was something we had from the start of the race. We don't know what it was."

RYAN NEWMAN (No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet, 12th): "When you get back in traffic, it's tough. We never could get to the front and get clean air. We rallied to finish 12th and that will help us in the points, but I wish we could have had a better day with our Haas Automation Chevrolet."

MARK MARTIN (No. 5 Quaker State/GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, eighth): "Lance McGrew did a great job today, and this whole Quaker State team did awesome. I wish we could have stepped on it there at the end, but we ran out in Turn 3 so we had to save everything that we saved. I guess we just needed a little bit more. I had a good car today. We kept it in one piece, and we brought home a decent finish. It was a real smart race by Lance and the whole team. I'm really happy for Paul Menard; really, really, really happy. That's awesome."

BOBBY LABONTE (No. 47 Huggies Toyota, 17th):"It was all right. We just lost a lot of time on pit road today. It was probably one of our worse days to lose some track position. You know, it was just a little bad luck on our part. We pitted there and had a full tank of gas and ran until the end. We stayed out, and that helped us out."

CARL EDWARDS (No. 99 Ortho Home Defense Max Ford, 14th): "Our day was not good. But it ended up finishing well. Our Ortho Fusion was pretty slow. I wasn't doing the best job I could, and then I tore the left front splitter off in the grass. That ended up being the thing that saved us because we came in over and over fixing it. We pulled back out, and I said, 'What's out best chance here?' Bob (crew chief Osborne) said, 'Save fuel.' We ended up 14th. We were running about 25th when I tore up the splitter. It ended up better than I thought it was going to. But definitely we have to work on this track before we come back. It's a tough one for us." (On Paul Menard's first win): "I've worked with Paul as a teammate. He's a great race car driver. He's a better person. I really like Paul a lot. I couldn't be happier for him. If we couldn't win the race, I can't think of a better person."

DALE EARNHARDT JR. (No. 88 AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet, 16th): "We did OK. We had a pretty good car. Track position was everything, like I thought it would be. You couldn't pass. You could run as fast as the guys in front of you, and that was it. It was just like a road course because you couldn't pass. You don't want to be hanging around out there on the racetrack when everyone else is inside the fuel window, so I can kind of understand how it turned out. Even if I had new tires or better tires, I couldn't pass people. When I got off pit road that last time, I knew I was going to finish behind whoever was in front of me as long as he had enough gas. I caught the 4 car by a lucky break, and I caught a car that ran out of fuel and got a spot. Some guys were fast enough to get up there, and some of us didn't. We played it out, and that's the result we got. I don't know what to be angry about if I was going to be angry about."

JEFF BURTON (No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet, 35th): "We worked pretty hard out there today. At the end, we wanted to take a gamble, but we were just a little off on fuel mileage to be able to do that. You look at the top three or four, and they were in a position to gamble. That's the position they were in, and it worked. We wanted to do it but we knew we couldn't make it."

KYLE BUSCH (No. 18 M&M's Toyota, 10th): "We fought track position the whole day and we once we did get it, we were up front running in the top 10 for much of the day. We made contact on the pit stop when Tony (Stewart) was coming in and I was coming out. It was our fault. We should have waited for him to come in. After that, we got into traffic and knocked the nose in. We salvaged along from there. All in all, it was an ugly way to salvage a top ten finish. It's so hard to run around here and gain track position. If you can pass people, sure, it won't be that big of a deal but you can get stuck behind a guy and not be able to make a move on him. That's frustrating but it's the same for everybody. A lot of guys are better at it than others. I'd say I'm not the very good at making track position here but we did the best with what we had."

TREVOR BAYNE (No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center Ford, 30th): "It's not the most fun I've ever had. But this is a cool place, and I was glad to run my first (Brickyard) 400 here. We were just so tight all day long. It seemed like we'd get a run going, and someone would knock the grass up in our radiator and we'd have to pit. It started at like Lap 5, our day did. You know, it's just hard to recover from that. But I appreciated that the Wood Brothers let me drive the car. We had a good time, but hopefully we'll be better next year here."

TONY STEWART (No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet, sixth): "That's a long day at the office. That's the hard way to do it, man. We had to fight from the back a couple of times to get up there. I don't even know how we finished sixth. It was a lot of hard work from (crew chief) Darian Grubb and the guys on the Mobil 1/Office Depot team. We almost finished fifth; it was a good day for us." (About penalty for hitting pit speed limit cone): "Kevin (Harvick) lifted earlier than I did coming off Turn 4. Versus running into him, I went to the outside of him. The problem was when I got to the cone, I was in the wrong spot. It was one of those things; I was trying to get everything I could get. It was either hit the cone or run over the guy in front of me and I chose to hit the cone, so we got the penalty for it. I'm proud of our guys for getting us what we got today." (About contact with Kyle Busch on pit road): "It's a long pit road, but it's a narrow pit road. I feel bad for Kyle and those guys because they had a good day going at that time." (About last pit stop for fuel): "We were three laps short. We did the right thing when we did, and it paid off for us. There was no way to make up three laps. We inherited the lead anyway because we stayed out, and everybody in front of us came in. We knew it was a borrowed lead, but it sure was nice to lead here again at Indy. I'm really happy for Paul Menard. He's been around this place a long time, since he was a kid. It couldn't have happened to a better guy. That's a pretty deserving win. I'm happy for him getting his first win that way."

GREG BIFFLE (No. 16 Red Cross Ford, seventh): "It was a pretty good day. It was just track position. We battled track position all day. It's never fun fighting from the back. You try and battle your way back up there. You do two tires (pit stop), and everybody else does two tires. We never did stay out. You've got to get tires and fuel in it. We did all we could do."

MATT KENSETH (No. 17 Crown Royal Ford, fifth): "The 24 and I were pretty equal, and I had a little mishap down there with Burton on pit road, and that cost me a spot on the 24. I felt like that was going be the mistake that I made, not knowing the 31 was pitting, for the win. But it didn't turn out that way. I'm happy for him (Paul Menard). You're always happy to see a first-time winner, and to be able to win this race is big. But I wish we could have raced everyone on speed today. We ran really good. We were probably the second-best car most of the day. I think the 24 had the field covered. So I'm happy for Paul Menard, but it is kind of a shame for Jeff. I thought we had the fastest two cars, and I was hoping we would be able to duke it out on performance to the end. But that is just the way racing is these days. It is a huge win for him, and I am happy for Paul although I was irritated with him during the race for running me off the track on that restart although I wish no race came down to fuel mileage. But he has been running awfully good this year and deserves to get a win."

JAMIE McMURRAY (No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet, fourth): "They said we were a couple of laps short on fuel so all of us were saving at the end, and I wanted to be out front because I thought it would be hard to pass when we all decided to go. I felt pretty comfortable with the 27 car because it has a ECR engine and is probably tuned similar to ours, and I just wanted to get ahead of him. Then I tried to go in one corner, and my car pushed so bad he got back by me. So from that point on I was just conserving."

JOEY LOGANO (No. 20 Home Depot Toyota, 25th): "Ah ... another strategy race. We weren't very good at the beginning of the race and struggled a lot. But we did a good job making the car better. So by the end of the race I thought we had a top-10 car, and it felt good. But the way everything strategized out, we had to make an extra stop at the end and a lot of guys made it on fuel, so we finished 25th. I think we should have finished 10th if it had ended like it was supposed to. But it seems that more and more races are ending like this, with guys who haven't led a lap all day end up winning the race. It is very frustrating. It isn't like I think we were going to win the race, but we were better than a 25th-place car."

Results

FIN ST CAR DRIVER MAKE SPONSOR PTS/BNS LAPS STATUS
1 15 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet NIBCO / Menards 47/4 160 Running
2 8 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet Drive to End Hunger 43/1 160 Running
3 27 78 Regan Smith Chevrolet Furniture Row Companies 41/0 160 Running
4 16 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet Bass Pro Shops / Tracker 41/1 160 Running
5 9 17 Matt Kenseth Ford Crown Royal 40/1 160 Running
6 24 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet Mobil 1 / Office Depot 39/1 160 Running
7 18 16 Greg Biffle Ford American Red Cross / Type O "Give Blood" 37/0 160 Running
8 12 5 Mark Martin Chevrolet Quaker State / GoDaddy.com 36/0 160 Running
9 5 2 Brad Keselowski Dodge Miller Lite 36/1 160 Running
10 29 18 Kyle Busch Toyota M&M's 34/0 160 Running
11 19 29 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet Jimmy John's Gourmet Sandwiches 33/0 160 Running
12 23 39 Ryan Newman Chevrolet Haas Automation 32/0 160 Running
13 26 33 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet Cheerios / Hamburger Helper 32/1 160 Running
14 10 99 Carl Edwards Ford Ortho Home Defense Max 30/0 160 Running
15 31 83 Brian Vickers Toyota Red Bull 29/0 160 Running
16 22 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet Amp Energy / National Guard 29/1 160 Running
17 17 47 Bobby Labonte Toyota Huggies Little Movers Slip-On Diapers 27/0 160 Running
18 2 4 Kasey Kahne Toyota Red Bull 28/2 160 Running
19 3 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet Lowe's / Kobalt Tools 26/1 160 Running
20 32 51 Landon Cassill Chevrolet Phoenix Construction / Thank A Teacher Today-Securit-y Benefit 0 160 Running
21 4 22 Kurt Busch Dodge Shell / Pennzoil 23/0 160 Running
22 6 43 A.J. Allmendinger Ford Best Buy 22/0 160 Running
23 1 6 David Ragan Ford UPS / Ned Jarrett NASCAR Hall of Fame 22/1 160 Running
24 30 56 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota NAPA Platinum Filter 20/0 160 Running
25 20 20 Joey Logano Toyota The Home Depot 19/0 160 Running
26 39 71 Andy Lally * Ford Interstate Moving Services 18/0 160 Running
27 14 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota FedEx Express 17/0 160 Running
28 7 42 Juan Montoya Chevrolet Target 16/0 160 Running
29 11 13 Casey Mears Toyota GEICO 15/0 160 Running
30 25 21 Trevor Bayne Ford Motorcraft / Quick Lane Tire & Auto Center 0 160 Running
31 33 36 Dave Blaney Chevrolet Big Red 14/1 160 Running
32 42 32 Mike Bliss Ford TMone "We Drive Sales" 0 160 Running
33 37 34 David Gilliland Ford Front Row Motorsports 11/0 157 Running
34 21 9 Marcos Ambrose Ford Stanley 10/0 157 Running
35 13 31 Jeff Burton Chevrolet Caterpillar 9/0 153 Engine
36 28 00 David Reutimann Toyota Aaron's Dream Machine 8/0 49 Accident
37 35 66 Michael McDowell Toyota HP Racing LLC 7/0 23 Electrical
38 36 87 Joe Nemechek Toyota AMFMEnergy.com / Pellet & Wood Stoves 0 19 Overheating
39 34 37 Scott Speed Ford Green Stuff Absorbent 0 19 Rear Gear
40 38 60 Mike Skinner Toyota Big Red 0 16 Electrical
41 43 223 Terry Labonte Ford CRMone "We Drive Service" 3/0 15 Transmission
42 40 150 T.J. Bell * Chevrolet Green Smoke 0 10 Brakes
43 41 7 Robby Gordon Dodge Speed Energy 1/0 5 Engine

* Denotes Rookie

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