Menard's Debut in ...
Menard's Debut in #11 DEI Chevrolet Headed for Potential Top-5 Finish Before Getting Caught Up in Late Restart Incident at New Hampshire
LOUDON, N.H. (Saturday, July 24, 2004) -- Paul Menard's maiden voyage in the all-new #11 Menards/Pittsburgh Paints Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt, Inc., appeared destined for the NASCAR Busch Series rookie's top career finish before getting caught up in a restart mishap just 18 laps from the end of today's Siemens 200 at New Hampshire International Speedway. Menard finished 18th.
Menard, the 23-year-old from Eau Claire, Wis., was running in eighth place and charging toward the front of the pack, clicking off his best laps of the day during a late-race sequence leading to a Lap 178 caution period for an accident involving Greg Biffle and Casey Mears. During the ensuing restart, on Lap 182, the cars of Kyle Busch and Jason Keller ahead of him collided on the front straightaway, and Menard damaged the right-front of the #11 Menards car as a result of what appeared to be slight but significant contact with the car of Ron Hornaday, who checked up to avoid the Busch-Keller accident.
With the right-front bodywork of Menard's racing machine rubbing his right-front tire, he had no choice but to pit for repairs. Despite the quick stop to pull the bodywork away from the tire, Menard fell back to 24th place when the race went green for a final run to the finish on Lap 186. He resumed the quick pace he was able to maintain prior to the Lap 182 incident and passed six cars before the checkered flag flew on Lap 200 for his 18th-place finish. He was the top-finishing rookie in the 43-car field.
NASCAR Nextel Cup regular Matt Kenseth took the victory today, beating Busch regulars Tim Fedewa and Jason Leffler across the finish line.
Next up is next weekend's Goulds Pumps/ITT Industries 250 on the Pikes Peak International Raceway mile oval south of Colorado Springs.
"I think for a first race for a brand new team, I'm really proud of our guys and this entire organization. Our goal coming into the race was a solid top-10 finish, and it looked like we were going to have that and a lot more before we got caught up in somebody else's mistake. That's the way it goes in this game. At least we got our first race under out belts with the satisfaction of knowing we were on our way to a top-five finish and maybe even better. We were in eighth when the (Lap 182) incident happened and we were definitely catching up with the lead pack. We struggled a bit with the Menards/Pittsburgh Paints Chevrolet at the beginning of the race, but I think that was the same for most everybody out there early on because Happy Hour (Saturday's final practice session after qualifying) got rained out. The DEI guys did a great job getting me in and out of the pits, and they made the car better every time. That last stop we sure could've done without. I was hoping we didn't have to come in and fix anything, but as it turns out, the tire rub might have led to something a lot worse than an 18th-place finish. We'll take it, and move on to Pikes Peak with a lot of good things to build on."