Pure Talent at Last: Paul Menard Wins 18th Brickyard 400 at Indy
For the past six seasons, the only words surrounding Paul Menard were "talentless hack" or "only in NASCAR because of his daddy's store."
On Sunday afternoon, the 30-year-old Eau Claire, WI native received another label, one which all racers embrace: Sprint Cup race winner.
Not only did Menard finally capture his long awaited first career win after 167 career starts, he won it fair and square, holding off a hard-charging Jeff Gordon for the victory.
"We're winners in Sprint Cup. That's the big deal. To do it at Indy, even bigger deal," Menard said per AP Sports Writer Jenna Fryer's article. "I know what I'm capable of."
After years of relative obscurity in trying to do the right things and getting the opportunities to win in Cup racing, Menard's found his home at Richard Childress Racing.
It was an emotional win in more ways than one for the No. 27 Menards Chevy Impala team, as Paul's father, John, soaked in the win after nearly three decades of futility at The Brickyard.
Fielding entries for various Indianapolis 500 entries throughout the 1980s to early 2000's, John said, "I've been waiting to kiss these bricks for such a long time. I'm ready!"
Menard led 21 of the 160 laps making up this year's 400-miler at Indy, holding off Gordon, who caught him but couldn't pass him in the end.
"We were talking about him coming here as a kid with his family I think from like, I don't know, late '80s or something all the way to 2000, some ridiculous thing thing where every year he was here for the 500," Gordon said. "Knowing what his dad has done here in IndyCars...I think he's in awe right now."
Placing third was 2011 Showtime Southern 500 winner Regan Smith, who probably could relate to Menard better than anybody else.
Continuing a trend in which first-time winners captured their Sprint Cup glory in NASCAR's crown jewel events, Smith said, "I just know what it means to Paul. I know how hard he's worked."
This season has been a relatively unpredictable one in terms of race winners at some of the circuit's prestigious venues, with Trevor Bayne winning the Daytona 500, Regan Smith's Southern 500 triumph, David Regan's redemption in the 400 miler at Daytona, and now Menard's arrival at Indy.
In what was a relatively action-packed Brickyard 400, drivers took chances throughout the race to create passing opportunities, going three to five-wide in some instances in turn three to advance positions, especially during restarts.
Drivers could make their way through traffic, slicing through the field, almost bearing resemblance to stock car racing in the late 1990's that placed emphasis on the racers, not just the engineering.
However, some of those maneuvers cost racers like Landon Cassill and Kasey Kahne, who both spun on lap 121 in turn three. Both drivers were able to continue, with Cassill placing 20th while Kahne salvaged an 18th place finish.
As for the race winner, it was not just his personal moment in the sun. The win was an affirmation that the Menard name wasn't just an IndyCar exclusive one, but also, a legit NASCAR contender.
No more labels like "boy with the silver spoon," "daddy dearest," or "kid with the dollar bills." Paul Menard is a true, genuine NASCAR winner and perhaps a Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship contender.
His win on Sunday gained him five spots in the points standings, as he now sits 14th in the rundown with just six more races before the playoffs in Chicagoland next month. Additionally, if the Chase were to start now, Menard would be the 12th and final driver in the championship race.
Rounding out the top-10 finishers were 2010 Brickyard winner Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth, two-time race victor Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Mark Martin, Brad Keselowski, and Kyle Busch.
Next Sunday, the Cup circuit hits up "The Tricky Triangle" for the Good Sam RV Insurance 500 at the Pocono Raceway (Live 1 PM EST on ESPN).
Greg Biffle and his No. 16 team look to repeat their win from a year ago to make some headway for their Chase bid in 2011, while Jeff Gordon hopes to duplicate his feat from June with his third win of 2011.
Here's a look at your top-12 points standings heading into Pocono, with positions 11 and 12 reflecting the current Chase format. Drivers are listed with their team, manufacturer, and wins in parentheses:
- Carl Edwards (Roush-Fenway/Ford/1 win)
- Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick/Chevy/1 win)
- Kevin Harvick (Childress/Chevy/3 wins)
- Kyle Busch (Gibbs/Toyota/3 wins)
- Matt Kenseth (Roush-Fenway/Ford/2 wins)
- Kurt Busch (Penske/Dodge/1 win)
- Jeff Gordon (Hendrick/Chevy/2 wins)
- Ryan Newman (Stewart-Haas/Chevy/1 win)
- Tony Stewart (Stewart-Haas/Chevy)
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Hendrick/Chevy)
- Denny Hamlin (Gibbs/Toyota/1 win)
- Paul Menard (Childress/Chevy/1 win)