BUSCH: Phoenix: Paul Menard preview

Menard, ...

Menard, #11 DEI Teammates in Familiar Territory at Saturday's Bashas' Supermarkets 200 NASCAR Busch Series Race at Phoenix

AVONDALE, Ariz. (Nov. 2, 2004) -- It's no secret that Phoenix International Raceway is one of NASCAR Busch Series Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender Paul Menard's favorite places, scene of some of the best racing moments of his career.

The 24-year-old out of Eau Claire, Wis., hopes to add to that list of racing memories when he brings his #11 Menards/Peak Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt, Inc., to the Arizona desert for Saturday's Bashas' Supermarkets 200 on the mile oval at PIR.

Menard's breakthrough event came on this very oval in the fall of 2002 when he made a dramatic last-lap pass of NASCAR Nextel Cup veteran Kenny Schrader to score his first NASCAR Southwest Series victory. That performance led to his step up to the NASCAR Truck, Busch and Cup series ranks in 2003, when he ran a mixed bag of events in preparation for this season's official rookie campaign on the Busch circuit.

"Phoenix will always be a special place for me," said Menard, who added a Grand American Rolex Series American GT-class win on the road course here in 2002, as well as two other top-10 NASCAR Southwest Series finishes here in 2002 and 2003. "It's a unique little track that I've gotten to like a whole lot. It's fast and racey, and it's important to have a good race car so you can get after it with confidence. A lot of tracks we've been to this year I've only seen for the first time. But this one at Phoenix, I'm glad to say I know it very well, so we'll have a bit of a head start in that respect when we roll the Menards/Peak Chevrolet off the truck for practice on Thursday. I'm really looking forward to it."

Solid top-20 finishes in the last five Busch races he's contested have seen Menard and his DEI teammates knocking on the door of their milestone first top-10 together. Last Saturday at Atlanta, just a week after posting a season-best 11th-place finish at Memphis, that elusive top-10 looked oh-so-close in the closing laps when Menard was running ninth and continuing his way toward the front. But a late-race spin -- while Menard was positioning himself to serve a questionable black-flag penalty for an alleged improper pass during a restart -- derailed his top-10 run and sent him all the way back to a 19th-place finish. Nonetheless, he and his teammates are banking on continuing their streak of stellar pit work and consistent race finishes this weekend.

Practice for Saturday's 200-lap race begins at 10 a.m. local time (noon EDT) Thursday, followed by qualifying at 1:30 p.m. local time (3:30 p.m. EDT). SPEED-TV will carry a tape-delayed broadcast of Friday morning's Happy Hour of final practice at 3 p.m. EDT. Race time Saturday is 1 p.m. local time (3 p.m. EDT) with NBC providing live TV coverage.


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Drivers Paul Menard