Paul Menard stretches fuel to take first win at the Brickyard
It was so much like a dream and so far from reality that the winner of Sunday's Brickyard 400 looked more shell shocked that exuberant in Victory Lane. Could this really be happening? After 166 races without a Sprint Cup win, race number 167 was pure magic for Paul Menard.
“You know I’ve been coming here since I was a kid and my Daddy has been trying to win this race for 35 years,so this is for my Dad", said Menard. "A lot of emotions right now. Slugger Labbe (crew chief) and all of these guys just do a hell of a job. I can’t believe we won Indy.”
Menard climbed out of his car to greet his team and his dad, John Menard, who has spent a fortune trying to find victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for years in the Indy 500. He sponsors his son's car that is painted up in the day-glo yellow that the Menard Indy Cars had run so many times in the 80's and 90's.
The race came to Menard though a series of cautions that jumbled up fuel strategies and put some of the fastest cars back in the field for the final stint of the race. Jeff Gordon had the dominant car all afternoon, but his final pit stop put him over ten seconds back of Menard, out of position to win the race. Gordon charged on the leaders, and was catching Menard at nearly one second per lap.
"The car was awesome", Gordon said. "So when we got in front of Harvick I thought okay, I thought that was the guys we were going to race and then when Alan told me there were guys that were going to try to stretch out fuel mileage all I could do was drive as hard as I could. I was a little bit loose at the beginning and we got in some traffic and the car finally tightened up and then we were really clicking off some laps."
For Gordon, there just weren't enough laps left, and his quest for five Brickyard wins continues.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continues to look for another win
Dale Earnhard, Jr.'s streak of disappointing finishes continued this week as the Amp Energy/National Guard car finished 16th. Junior led the race at one point, but pit stops killed him all day, and he didn't have a good enough car to make up positions on the track.
"We had a good run", said Earnhardt. "Our car drove pretty good. We cycled around and didn’t have the track position at the end and that is all it was. Everybody was on a lot different strategies, too."
Fuel Stategy Races Pretty Much Suck
Speaking of different strategies, Sunday's race turned into yet another fuel strategy race which kind of was frustrating to watch as a fan. Sometimes these races seem to come down to a little bit of thoughtful calculation, and a lot of luck. Fuel races can have their own special drama, but watching the field cycle through final stops and stretch fuel leaves a lot to be desired. I'd prefer to watch Gordon vs. Irvin or Unser vs. Fittipaldi at Indy, but of course fuel strategy is a part of racing. But why do I feel like fuel races are happening more often in recent years?