BUSCH: Fontana II: Paul Menard preview

Menard and the ...

Menard and the #11 Menards/PPG Team from DEI Head to California
Hoping Success at Michigan Translates Into Top Finish in Target House 300

FONTANA, Calif. (Aug. 31, 2004) -- Seems it never rains in Southern California, or so the song goes, which makes Paul Menard and the #11 Menards/Pittsburgh Paints Chevrolet team of Dale Earnhardt, Inc., feeling great about heading to California Speedway for Saturday's NASCAR Busch Series Target House 300.

It was rain that ruined what started out for Menard and the DEI team as a breakthrough event two weekends ago at the Michigan International Speedway 2-mile tri-oval -- an identical layout to the one here at its sister facility in Fontana.

The Raybestos Rookie of the Year-contending driver from Eau Claire, Wis., had the fastest car in Friday-morning practice, making the outlook for a top qualifying position as sunny as ever in just his fourth race with the DEI team. The weather outlook was an altogether different story, however, as qualifying was washed out on Friday afternoon and the starting grid was determined by owners points and other criteria. With just three races under its belt at the time, the #11 team could not have possibly accumulated enough points to earn one of the 43 starting positions.

"We felt like we definitely had one of the cars to beat at Michigan, but Mother Nature had other ideas," Menard said. "It was a roller-coaster ride of emotions, for sure. Fastest in practice at one point, but then having to pack up and go home. Needless to say, it was a long ride home. But at least we had a huge ray of hope with Fontana on the schedule just two weeks down the road."

Last Friday, under the lights on the Bristol Motor Speedway half-mile oval, Menard again looked like his top finish of the season was definitely in the cards before lapped traffic -- not Mother Nature this time -- decided to intervene. After working their way well into the top 10 during the early stages of the race, Menard and the #11 team pitted for a final time and were ready to make a charge to the finish when, on Lap 177 of a scheduled 250, a lapped car spun into him and sent him into the wall, terminally damaging the right-front suspension. It made for another long ride home, but the consolation came in the form of none other than Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who made the most of his first time behind the wheel of the #81 Menards-sponsored DEI Chevrolet by winning from pole to checkered flag, giving Menards its first-ever Busch series win.

Practice for Saturday's Target House 300 begins at 8:30 a.m. local time (11:30 a.m. EDT) on Friday. Qualifying Friday is set for 1 p.m. local time (4 p.m. EDT) with a live broadcast set for SPEED-TV. Race time Saturday is noon local time (3 p.m. EDT) with live coverage on NBC.

-dei/mr-

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About this article
Series NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Paul Menard