BUSCH: Daytona II: Menard, Earnhardt Jr preview

Menard Comes To Daytona On a Roll Joined by Earnhardt, Jr. For Friday Night's Winn-Dixie 250 NASCAR Busch Series Race DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 27, 2005) -- Career-best at Kentucky. Career-best at Milwaukee. That sums up the last two...

Menard Comes To Daytona On a Roll Joined by Earnhardt, Jr. For Friday Night's Winn-Dixie 250 NASCAR Busch Series Race

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (June 27, 2005) -- Career-best at Kentucky. Career-best at Milwaukee. That sums up the last two weekends of NASCAR Busch Series racing for Paul Menard and the #11 Menards/Turtle Wax Chevrolet team from Dale Earnhardt, Inc., as they come to Daytona International Speedway for Friday night's Winn-Dixie 250 with a familiar old face joining the lineup for the first time this season.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., a winner his first time behind the wheel of a Menards-sponsored Busch car late last summer at Bristol, Tenn., is back for more as pilot of the bright-red #81 Menards Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt, Inc., for Friday night's 250-mile run. That's more than welcome news for the 24-year-old Menard, who was fifth at Kentucky two Saturday nights ago and third last Saturday night in his home state of Wisconsin. There are only two more possible career-best finishes out there for Menard and, quite frankly, he'd just as soon fast-forward past any sort of runner-up position all the way to first place this weekend. With Earnhardt, Jr., in the mix, that could only help matters in the unique drafting exercise known as restrictor-plate racing.

"It'll be twice as nice having two Menards cars in the field this weekend," said Menard, who comes to Daytona knocking on the door of a top-10 position in the Busch series drivers standings with half a season to go. "We're on a roll and all we want to do is keep it going at Daytona. With Dale, Jr., on board for this one, we definitely won't be short on excitement. After the strong showings we had our first time here this season and at Talladega, another DEI car in the lineup is just the thing we need to help push us over the top."

That's unfinished business in the way of closing the deal Menard and his team started both at Daytona last February and on the sister 'plate track at Talladega on the last day of April. Driving clearly the dominant car at both superspeedways, Menard led a total of 62 laps at the two events. But his inability to lure all-important drafting partners in the season-opener here at Daytona left him with a highly unsatisfying 17th-place finish. At Talladega, it was obvious his competitors paid close attention to the goings on at Daytona and there were drafting partners aplenty as Menard was in and out of the lead for the opening 82 laps before unwittingly getting caught up in one of those seemingly inevitable "big wrecks" to foil his bid.

For Earnhardt, Jr., who has 12 restrictor-plate wins in Nextel Cup and Busch series competition, including four straight Busch wins here from 2002 to 2004, this weekend's Winn-Dixie 250 marks a mid-summer change of pace running with a mix of fellow Nextel Cup regulars as well as some of the best up-and-comers in NASCAR, including his own teammates Menard and defending series champion Martin Truex, Jr.

"I enjoy racing in the Busch series, especially at these tracks," Earnhardt, Jr., said. "The last time I drove the Menards car was at Bristol last summer and we won both races that weekend. Hopefully, we can have the same kind of weekend here in Daytona. Our record at this track is pretty good, and my teammates (Menard and Truex) have been running well. Hopefully, we can hook up and have a 1-2-3 finish."

Menard brings an all-new superspeedway Menards/Turtle Wax Chevrolet to town this weekend, one he hopes will be every bit as strong as the one he drove here and at Talladega earlier this year.

"We've come a long way since the beginning of the season -- since we started this deal last July, for that matter," Menard said. "All that hard work put in by (crew chief) Dan Stillman and all the boys at DEI week in and week out is starting to really pay off. This week, we're back for the last restrictor-plate race of the year and we have some unfinished business to take care of.

"The worst part about Talladega was that the car was totaled, but Dan and the boys have built us a Menards Chevrolet we believe is every bit as good. We definitely had ourselves a rocket ship at Daytona and Talladega and I think we'll be alright with this brand new one. Restrictor-plate cars are one of the hallmarks at DEI. I'm not the biggest fan in the world of restrictor-plate racing, but when you have a good car, you end up liking it a lot better out there."

The Winn-Dixie 250 weekend begins Thursday at 3 p.m. EDT with the first of two practice sessions that day. Qualifying is set for 1:30 p.m. EDT Friday with live coverage on SPEED-TV. Race time Friday is 8 p.m. EDT with the TNT cable network's live coverage beginning at 7:30 p.m. EDT.


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Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Martin Truex Jr. , Paul Menard