Paul Menard, the lone Wisconsin-based racer in the Monster NASCAR Cup Series experience a wide range of emotions at the season opening event at Daytona.
The first is also the biggest event for NASCAR drivers with the Prestigious Daytona 500 capping it off. Festivities last longer and Menard had mixed results taking to the track in three separate events.
Out of the box, Menard and the new Wood Brothers Ford Mustang simply could not have looked better as the Eau-Claire racer turned in a dominant performance in the Advance Auto Parts Clash, the Sunday prior to the big race.
After qualifying on pole, Menard led the charge for 51 of the race’s 55 laps but ended up collected in a huge crash just minutes from the race being called due to weather conditions.
Frustrated from that result, Menard shrugged off the tough finish and focused on finishing well in the Duel Qualifying events. If heads weren’t turned from his awesome showing in the Clash, they were with a third place finish in the first of the two 125-mile Duel races, good enough for seventh in the field and a fourth row starting spot in the big race.
Menard worked back from a pit road mishap that put him a lap down and once again found himself among the front pack near the end. Once again though, a late race incident dropped him down the field and he ultimately settled for a 29th place showing.
A look at race results from the Clash will show Menard 13th overall, but a quick look at the record books will tell a truer tale.
The race was called while cars were still running under caution from the incident as Jimmy Johnson contacted Menard on a side-drafting mishap that got Menard unstable and ultimately involved 16 cars of 20 in the field.
However, by leading 51 of 55 laps, Menard smashed the record of laps led in the race, previously set at 47 by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2008.
Menard was clearly frustrated after the incident but took it in stride.
“That’s something for the history books I guess,” said Menard in a Wood Brothers team press release. “Unfortunately, we just got turned there. I didn’t really know what happened until I saw a replay. I felt like it was aggressive side-drafting. I got turned to the inside and hooked to the right and all hell broke loose.
“It was a pretty tame race up until that point. We knew that last restart was basically a new race – a little dash for cash to the end.”
Menard and his #21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane team started his Duel race in sixth and a great green-flag pit stop helped get him to second on the 12th lap of the 60-lap event. Running the high line throughout, Menard was right behind eventual race winner Kevin Harvick and slipped back to third a short time later when the bottom line pushed a driver past him. Menard attempted to gain the spot back on the final lap but settled for a third place showing and seventh spot on the grid.
Menard again showed his ability to run at the front in the big race, but a couple of incidents played a part in a tough finish.
With the front pack for most of the first 60-lap Stage, Menard picked up a drive through penalty in the second stage for speeding on pit road which put him a lap off the pace.
He went back to work and again found his way to the front of the pack late in the race, but an aggressive move backfired on him and triggered a heavy crash.
Just nine laps remained when Menard tried to pass Matt DiBenedetto and instead collided with him triggering an incident that ultimately involved 21 cars.
Menard put the blame for this one on himself.
“I hooked the 95,” said Menard to reporters after being checked at the track’s infield care center (and reported in the team’s press release). “I was trying to get to his outside and he was kind of in the middle and he went to the outside and was going back and forth.
“The 12 (Ryan Blaney) had a big run, so I jumped in front of him and hooked the 95. I will take the blame for that one. We had really fast Fords. I sped on pit road and got us behind. We had to play catch-up. We had a shot there at the end though.”
Menard will move on with his Wood Brothers Team to Atlanta for the next event, Feb. 24.