Daytona 500: Paul Menard preview

Menards Racing Recipe for Success Mooresville, NC -- The 2007 season is finally here. After a two month hiatus and two highly anticipated test sessions, questions hang in the minds of NASCAR aficionados as to who will take the green flag...

Menards Racing Recipe for Success

Mooresville, NC -- The 2007 season is finally here. After a two month hiatus and two highly anticipated test sessions, questions hang in the minds of NASCAR aficionados as to who will take the green flag is this year's Daytona 500.

In case you haven't been privy to the onslaught of questions posed by media, crew members and race fans alike, here's one for you:

Question -- What do you get when you add one hotshot Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate to one accomplished crew chief, then mix in a superspeedway powerhouse organization for good measure?

Answer -- A starting spot in the 49th annual Daytona 500.

Paul Menard, driver of the No. 15 Peak/Menards Chevrolet has every reason to believe the answer provided above is an attainable goal for his race team. Not only did Menard lead the way through Daytona pre-season testing by recording the fastest lap time of 64 participating drivers, but he also drives for an organization that is widely regarded as the dominant group in superspeedway competition. These factors combined with the leadership of veteran crew chief Tony Eury Sr. could easily result in a top-ten finish in what would be the biggest race of Menard's career.

Menard, however, has one big challenge to overcome before setting his sights on the Daytona 500. The first opportunity to make the field will come Sunday afternoon during single car qualifying. If Menard is one of the top three qualifying drivers outside the top-35 in points, he has a spot locked in for the race.

"We'll head into Sunday's qualifying expecting to get one of those three spots." Crew Chief Eury Sr. said prior to heading to Daytona this week. "If we miss that cut off, we'll have to race our way in during the Twin 150's."

When asked whether the team left anything on the table to bring back for the actual show, Eury mentioned a slight improvement in horsepower. However, restrictor plate racing causes aerodynamics to be more important than horsepower. The result of which, is a big pack of cars running nose to tail and door to door all day long. Eury says this is where the 15 car excels.

"The car is real good in the draft," Eury continued. "There's no reason we shouldn't be able to make the race (Daytona 500) and be in the hunt for a top-ten finish come next Sunday."

Eury went on to explain the team gave Menard everything they had during testing in Daytona in order to forecast their February potential. And while the question remains, Eury's experience suggests Menard will find Daytona success. After having a hand in Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s combined 34 superspeedway victories, Eury is clearly the perfect leader for rookie Menard.

The team brings the same car they tested last month, back to Daytona for this year's Speedweeks.

Menard will also pilot the No. 15 Peak/Menards Chevrolet in Saturday's NASCAR Busch Series race.

Menard's precise driving talents have been conditioned for success at Daytona. Arriving in Daytona on the heels of a second consecutive sixth place finish in the NASCAR Busch Series championship standings, Menard intends to use this momentum to find Victory Lane in this year's NASCAR Busch Series Orbitz 300. Menards Racing will have two chances to get to Victory Lane in the Orbitz 300; as Dale Earnhardt Jr. joins Menard in a Menards/Johns Manville branded No. 8 Chevrolet.

"A win in the Busch race at Daytona would be huge." Menard said. "But it's definitely something the team is capable of doing."

Menard's personal resume fits well in the fold at DEI. With an ARCA win at Talladega in 2003, his affection for superspeedway racing was solidified during his 2005 performance, winning the Busch Pole Award at Talladega Superspeedway and a leading a combined 73 laps over the course of three superspeedway events.

In 2006, Menard found frustrations at Daytona, missing the Daytona 500 field after a blown tire in his qualifying race and endured crashes in both NASCAR Busch Series events at the track. However, he recorded a top-ten finish in the Busch Series race at Talladega Superspeedway in April and came back to run up front at the Cup race in October. While a typical Talladega multi-car incident ended his day early, Menard recorded one lap led, his first lap led in a NASCAR Nextel Cup superspeedway event.

Menard expects his NASCAR Nextel Cup Daytona Debut to take on the same tone as his Talladega Superspeedway run last fall.

"If last year's Cup race at Talladega is any indicator, we should be pretty good in the Twin 150's." Menard said.

But Menard plans to approach what could be the biggest race of his career, in the same relaxed fashion that separates him from high spirited, aggressive drivers.

"Even though Daytona is one of the biggest races we go to, it's still a race." Menard said. "Whether it's a go kart race or the Daytona 500, you can't approach the race any different. It's still a car, with four tires and you still have to do your best and outrace the other drivers."

But having a car capable of running well in the draft isn't enough. You have to have friends out there and that's what Menard feels could be his biggest challenge in the qualifying race.

"Being a rookie in the draft is tough." Menard said. "The veteran drivers are used to working with each other so until I can earn their respect it's tough to say who I can rely on out there."

Qualifying for the 49th Annual Daytona 500 will take place Sunday, February 11th. The remaining positions for the 200-lap event will be determined during Thursday's qualifying races.

Until then, the question will remain as to which drivers will make their mark in history during this year's Great American Race.

-credit: menards racing

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