Menard, #11 DEI Teammates Kick Off Final Three-Race Stretch With Saturday's O'Reilly Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway
FORT WORTH, Texas (Nov. 1, 2005) -- A weekend off to catch their collective breaths in the midst of a torrid second half of the NASCAR Busch Series season has Paul Menard and his #11 Menards/Quaker State Chevrolet teammates from Dale Earnhardt, Inc., ready for the final three-race sprint to season's end beginning with Saturday's O'Reilly Challenge on the 1.5-mile high-banked Texas Motor Speedway tri-oval.
Menard's sixth-place finish on the three-quarter-mile tri-oval at Memphis two weekends ago was his 15th top-12 finish in 17 events dating back to June 18 at Kentucky Speedway. That amazing stretch includes a runner-up finish at Richmond, third-place runs at Charlotte and Milwaukee, and top-fives at Kentucky and Gateway. Mindful of the fact that conspicuously absent from the streak is Menard & Company's first career Busch series victory together, they could imagine no more fitting end to this breakthrough season than a first-place finish sometime during these final three races of 2005.
"That would definitely be the icing on the cake for all of us," said Menard, who holds down the seventh spot in the Busch series drivers standings but since mid-June has been outscored by only points leader and defending-champion Martin Truex, Jr., and two-time winner Clint Bowyer, who's currently in second place in the standings. "If the season would have started at Kentucky, we'd be looking really good in the championship chase. But as it is, we're closing out the season looking a lot like a championship-contending team. So, whether we're able to break through and get our first win before the end of this season, we're looking at carrying a whole lot of momentum into 2006. We just need to keep our heads down and working hard like we have, and the results will take care of themselves at these final three races."
Making his third career start here at Texas, Menard and his teammates are counting on their best result here, to date. In this year's April race here, Menard fought an unexpectedly tight race car at the start but, over the course of the 300-mile event, made just the setup adjustments that had him turning some of the fastest laps in the entire field. A drive-through penalty for crossing the start-finish line to the left of another competitor whose car was in trouble, however, sent Menard back all the way to 24th place with 66 laps to go. The strength of the Menard/Quaker State Chevrolet during those final laps was unmistakeable, however, as it caught and passed five competitors for a 19th-place finish.
"We weren't happy with where we finished, of course, but we were happy with 'how' we finished the last time here," Menard said. "We learned a lot about how to set up the car that I believe will help us big-time here this time around. It's definitely something to build on."
Practice for Saturday's 200-lap, 300-mile race begins at 9 a.m. local time (10 a.m. EST) Friday, with qualifying set for 5:05 p.m. local time (6:05 p.m. EST) and live coverage provided by SPEED-TV. Race time Saturday is 1 p.m. local time (2 p.m. EST) with the TNT cable network carrying all the action live.