BUSCH: Talladega: Paul Menard preview

Paul Menard NASCAR Busch Series -- ...

Paul Menard
NASCAR Busch Series -- #33 Menards Chevrolet
Team -- Andy Petree Racing, Flat Rock, N.C.

Six Months After Dominating ARCA Victory at Talladega, Menard Back Again for Aaron's 312 NASCAR Busch Series Run

TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 20, 2004) -- The events of Saturday, September 27, 2003, will be etched in the racing mind of Paul Menard forever, as that is the date the Eau Claire, Wis., driver scored a dramatic worst-to-first ARCA ReMax Series victory a mere two days after setting foot on the grounds of the Talladega Superspeedway for the very first time.

This weekend, the NASCAR Busch Series Raybestos Rookie hopes to go one better as he returns to the 2.66-mile high-banked tri-oval for the first time since that fateful day in another Andy Petree Racing entry, the #33 Menards/Turtle Wax Platinum Series Chevrolet for the season's eighth Busch race, Saturday's Aaron's 312.

"It was the biggest win of my career and just an unbelievable weekend all the way around," said the 23-year-old Menard, who set the fastest qualifying time for that ARCA race last September but was relegated to the back of the 38-car field after a post-qualifying inspection revealed his quarter panels did not meet a minimum height requirement. Undeterred, Menard battled his way into the lead by Lap 62 of the 113-lap race and held off numerous challengers to capture the sweetest victory of his young racing career.

"The way it happened made it that much more sweet," Menard said. "I never had so much fun in all of my racing life to that point, and I've been waiting for the chance to come back since that day. Well, here we are, and hopefully we can duplicate that feat -- although we'd probably prefer not having to go to the back for the start of the race again!"

Menard and the Petree team come to Talladega on the heels of a 16th-place finish on the Nashville Superspeedway tri-oval two weekends ago, and feeling like there is unfinished business to tend to after their last restrictor-plate race, the Hershey's Kisses 300 season opener at Daytona in February, was practically over before it ever even started. Menard qualified 12th at Daytona, the fastest Raybestos Rookie in the 43-car field and still his best qualifying effort of 2004, but was caught up in a multi-car accident on Lap 11 of the 120-lap event. Repairs cost him 45 laps in the garage, but the level-headed Menard managed to salvage a valuable 11 positions in the final 64 laps -- from 43rd to a finish of 32nd -- after rejoining the race.

Practice and qualifying for the Aaron's 312 begin Thursday. Race time Saturday is 1 p.m. local time (2 p.m. EDT) with a live broadcast set for the FOX network. SPEED-TV cable channel will show same-day, tape-delayed coverage of NASCAR Busch Series final practice at 3 p.m. EDT Friday.


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Drivers Andy Petree , Paul Menard