Another Solid Top-10 Run Falls by the Wayside for Menard in the Closing Laps of NASCAR Busch Finale at Homestead HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Saturday, Nov. 20, 2004) -- Paul Menard of Eau Claire, Wis., closed out his rookie season on the NASCAR Busch ...
Another Solid Top-10 Run Falls by the Wayside for Menard in the Closing Laps of NASCAR Busch Finale at Homestead
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Saturday, Nov. 20, 2004) -- Paul Menard of Eau Claire, Wis., closed out his rookie season on the NASCAR Busch Series with a solid run from the back of the field that was ended only when his #11 Menards/Pittsburgh Paints Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt, Inc., lost its motor in the closing laps of today's 300-mile event at Homestead Miami Speedway.
On Thursday, the 24-year-old Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender qualified third for today's 200-lap race around the 1.5-mile oval here, but had to move to the back of the starting grid when mechanical problems suffered during yesterday morning's Happy Hour of final practice necessitated an engine change. It was the second race in a row that a top qualifying effort by Menard was spoiled, as last weekend at Darlington, his top-four qualifying run was washed out by rain and he was forced to start at the back of a grid set by owners' points and other criteria. He came back to finish 12th in that race.
Today, Menard again marched through the field and ran as high as third with 59 laps to go when he made his final fuel-and-tire stop under green. A slight overshoot of his pit box lengthened that stop just enough to cost Menard a lap on the track, and he resumed in 17th. But he went to work once again in a determined march toward the top 10, and was all the way up in 10th, back on the lead lap, when a spinning car brought out a caution with 29 laps to go. Menard then pitted for a set of fresh tires only, resumed in 10th place when the race went green with 24 laps to go, and had just moved into ninth place when he made a fateful radio call to his crew that the engine had let go before completing Lap 177. He ended up in 34th place on the final scoresheet today, and 23rd in the final drivers points standings for the season, the second-highest rookie.
"Well, once again, they certainly knew we were here. I've got every confidence that next year is going to be a great year for us because we've made a habit of showing our stuff the last several races this season. The Menards/Pittsburgh Paints car was one of the fastest cars on the track at the end of the race, if not the fastest. I was getting ready to make a run at the leaders but then the motor just let go between (Turns) 1 and 2. I shut it down, the guys checked it out, and we were done for the day. What are you going to do? We did our best, once again. Last week, the DEI guys did a great job getting me up through the field from the back at Darlington. It was looking like we would end up even better today. I made one slight mistake by overshooting the pits on my next-to-last stop, but it turned back around for us on the track after that. Unfortunately, other factors decided to intervene. Hats off to everyone involved with the Menards DEI program. I'm really looking forward to next year. It can't get here soon enough."