Paul Menard Stretches Fuel to Survive Road America as Winnerby Kyle Pokrefky August 29, 2015 0 comments
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — Eau Claire, Wis. native Paul Menard scored his third career XFINITY Series victory and his second in his home state on Saturday after taking the checkered flag for the Road America 180.
Menard managed to save enough fuel after pitting on a Lap 24 caution and jetted away from the field on a restart with four laps to go to take his first-ever win in a NASCAR road course race ahead of Ryan Blaney and Brian Scott.
Blaney didn’t make it easy for the full-time Sprint Cup driver for Richard Childress Racing as this August’s Iowa winner put heavy pressure on the No. 33 Menards Chevrolet. Although he could get to Menard’s bumper, Blaney was unable to make his way around the eventual winner as he went on to cross the finish line 0.572 seconds behind Menard.
For Menard, today’s win completes a trifecta of winning at tracks that he has fond memories of. Menard, 35, has an XFINITY Series win at the Milwaukee Mile from 2006 and a Sprint Cup win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2011 to his credit.
“This is a track that I spent a lot of time at as a kid just riding around the track on ATVs and finding these little trails with my brothers and cousin,” Menard said. “I actually had my cousin spotting for me in Turn 7, so that was cool. Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Road America are the three tracks that are really close to home for me and I’ve been able to win at all three. I’m a pretty lucky guy as far as that goes.”
Menard is also a former winner at Road America in NASCAR’s now defunct Midwest Series, having taken the checkered flag in the series’s 2001 race at the track.
Reflecting on the differences in his life between his first and his most recent Road America wins, Menard said that this win was special in that he could share it with his one-year old daughter.
“I was just a snot-nosed kid back then,” Menard stated. “Now as a father, you have a different perspective of things for sure. Like I said earlier, being able to be here and riding around on an ATV with my daughter on Thursday night and last night. We had a big grill out with the family in the infield here.
“That was really special, it brought back a lot of memories. Being able to start new memories with my daughter is special.”
Coming to the checkered flag behind Menard, Blaney and Scott were Chase Elliott, Darrell Wallace Jr., Boris Said, Justin Marks, Regan Smith, Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon.
When talking about his run, Blaney talked about his surprise in the way the race played out with its lack of a green-white-checkered restart and stated that he just didn’t have enough to make a passing move on Menard.
“We had a good car all day, we were up towards the front most of the day,” Blaney said. “This place always has different pit strategies towards the end of the race – some guys pit early and try to stretch fuel. I thought we pitted in our window, which gave us a green-white-checkered or two – which usually happens here, I was actually surprised it didn’t happen.
“We had a solid car, we made it better all day. We had a shot at the end, we just couldn’t quite get close enough to Paul to be able to make a move and get under him. It was fun racing with him – it was fun racing with everybody today.”
Elliott was off to a blisteringly quick pace at the beginning of the race – jetting out to a 10-second plus lead through the first half of the race.
The defending series champion’s lead remained intact even through two early cautions on Laps 2 and 24 that were respectively for the No. 26 Toyota beaching itself in a Turn 5 gravel trap and for fluid dropped from the No. 14 Toyota of Cale Conley.
It wasn’t until a Lap 27 restart where Elliott’s No. 9 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet appeared to be mortal as Scott and Blaney bumped their way past him.
Fuel mileage became a concern later in the race as various strategies put some drivers – including Menard – at risk of running out of fuel before the end of the race.
The race’s final caution on Lap 36 for another beached car – this time for the polesitter, Ben Rhodes – used up six laps – putting the race in Menard’s favor.
Other drivers attempting to stretch their fuel including Blake Koch, Regan Smith and Michael Self did not end up as lucky as Koch and Smith both lost power to their cars after coasting under caution while Self lost a spot under caution for failing to maintain caution car speed.
Exiting Road America, Buescher, the race’s ninth-place finisher will take a 16-point lead over Elliott and a 19-point lead over Dillon into next Saturday’s VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 at Darlington Raceway.
Top-10 Finishers of the Road America 180
- 33 – Paul Menard(i) – Chevrolet – Richard Childress Racing
- 22 – Ryan Blaney – Ford – Team Penske
- 2 – Brian Scott – Chevrolet – Richard Childress Racing
- 9 – Chase Elliott – Chevrolet – JR Motorsports
- 6 – Darrell Wallace Jr.# – Ford – Roush Fenway Racing
- 54 – Boris Said – Toyota – Joe Gibbs Racing
- 42 – Justin Marks – Chevrolet – HScott Motorsports with Chip Ganassi
- 7 – Regan Smith – Chevrolet – JR Motorsports
- 60 – Chris Buescher – Ford – Roush Fenway Racing
- 3 – Ty Dillon – Chevrolet – Richard Childress Racing
Top-10 in the Drivers Standings after Round 23 of 33
- 60 – Chris Buescher – Roush Fenway Racing – 835 | Leader
- 9 – Chase Elliott – JR Motorsports – 819 | -16
- 3 – Ty Dillon – Richard Childress Racing – 816 | -19
- 7 – Regan Smith – JR Motorsports – 785 | -50
- 1 – Elliott Sadler – Roush Fenway Racing – 750 | -85
- 6 – Darrell Wallace Jr.# – Roush Fenway Racing – 736 | -99
- 2 – Brian Scott – Richard Childress Racing – 723 | -112
- 18 – Daniel Suarez# – Joe Gibbs Racing – 717 | -118
- 62 – Brendan Gaughan – Richard Childress Racing – 705 | -130
- 16 – Ryan Reed – Roush Fenway Racing – 631 | -204
# = Rookie, (i) = Ineligible for NASCAR XFINITY Series points.
Photo Credit: Rainier Ehrhardt/NASCAR via Getty Images