Among a star-studded field, Menard a quiet contender

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (AUG. 8, 2006) -- The city of Eau Claire, Wis., is nearly 750 miles from the town of Watkins Glen, N.Y.

But despite the distance, Eau Claire native, Paul Menard (No. 11 Menards Chevrolet) feels right at home at the road course in upstate New York.

Menard, whose sixth-place ranking in the standings makes him the highest-rated NASCAR Busch Series regular, finished eighth in this event one year ago.

But he had been on the 2.45-mile course in advance of the series' 2005 return to Watkins Glen International following a three-year hiatus. He made his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series debut at the track in 2003 -- driving for Andy Petree, qualifying 43rd, but finishing a respectable 29th.

Menard made his second NASCAR NEXTEL Cup start there the day after his NASCAR Busch Series debut last year, qualifying 42nd and improving to 27th for Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI).

This year, Menard is once again entered for double duty at The Glen, where he will attempt to qualify for DEI in Sunday's race. He is the only NASCAR Busch Series regular entered in that field.

"It's going to be a busy weekend running both races at The Glen, but I feel like we're definitely up for the challenge," Menard said. "Our focus is the NASCAR Busch Series race because we need another top finish to keep our climb in the point standings going.

"But driving the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup car is going to be fun. Having raced a Cup car at The Glen twice now, I feel like it's reasonable to hope for a top-15 finish in Sunday's race."

Menard has gone through a mixed bag of results since posting his first career win at his home track The Milwaukee Mile two months ago. A fourth-place at New Hampshire -- his best finish this year other than his win -- was followed two races later by a season-worst 39th at Chicago due to an accident. But he's upbeat about his chances at The Glen.

"We had a really good test at VIR (Virginia International Raceway) just before heading to Indianapolis and I think we've got the equipment to get it done this weekend," he said. "We learned quite a bit from Mexico (where he finished fifth), which will help us this weekend, too.

"Obviously, we'd like to get win number two for Menards and it's a definite possibility; it could happen this weekend."

-credit: nascar