Daytona 500: Paul Menard preview

Paul Menard Prepares for Daytona 500 Debut Mooresville, NC -- Paul Menard has waited his entire racing career for the opportunity to take the green flag in the Great American Race. Next Sunday, Menard will realize the dream of racing in the ...

Paul Menard Prepares for Daytona 500 Debut

Mooresville, NC -- Paul Menard has waited his entire racing career for the opportunity to take the green flag in the Great American Race. Next Sunday, Menard will realize the dream of racing in the Daytona 500.

"It's fulfilling to know that I'll be part of the Daytona 500," Menard said. "Obviously it's one of the biggest races in the world, one that I grew up watching every winter in Wisconsin. It was always the unofficial start to our racing season, so to be a part of it this year is very special to me and to my family. I hope it will be the first of many Daytona 500 starts."

While next Sunday's race will mark the 27-year old driver's Daytona 500 debut, it's his second Cup start at the track. Menard finished 21st in last summer's Pepsi 400. The driver, however, looks more to the first appearance of the Car of Tomorrow during the fall race at Talladega for cues on how next Sunday's race will play out.

"Talladega was going to be a really great race for us if we hadn't gotten in that wreck." Menard said of his late race multi car crash. "So that gives us a lot of hope for how our Car of Tomorrow program handles on the superspeedway. Obviously, the 150-qualifier will be the first real indicator of what's to come in the 500."

Menard's primary race car is chassis #42, which tested well in the draft at Daytona last month. Menard completed the test in 16th place overall in drafting speeds. While his single car speeds only came in at 33rd place overall, the potential for race day success is clear. Crew Chief Doug Randolph was particularly focused on the importance of drafting over qualifying.

"Our expectations are limited for qualifying," Randolph reasoned. "The Toyotas seem to have a power advantage. However, our cars worked well in the draft, and if we are able to execute we have the ability to finish in the top 10."

Menard is in agreement with his crew chief regarding the team's challenges on qualifying day, but also the chances of running up front on race day.

"I don't see us qualifying very strong," Menard said. "But the car drove awesome in the draft and really that's what it's going to come down to. I think you'll see a big pack for maybe 10 laps or so on new tires, after that it's going to spread out and handling will come in to play."

Menard makes his Daytona 500 debut with the support of his Dale Earnhardt Inc. crew members who have become more like a family over the past three seasons. As the leader of the group, Randolph recognizes the crew's confidence in Menard's driving ability as a factor in the potential for success in 2008.

"As with any team sport, team chemistry is very important," Randolph said. "We depend on Paul to drive the car to the best of his ability, which we know he does every time he's on the race track. And we've given him a car that we believe is capable of winning the Daytona 500 and it would be a dream come true for him and for all of us if we were able to win this race."

-credit: dei

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Paul Menard