By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
An alternate strategy and Mother Nature proved to be the best-case scenario for Paul Menard. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver was up front when it counted in the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway.
Menard jumped to the front in the No. 21 Menard’s / Jack Links Ford Fusion when crew chief Greg Erwin called an audible.
While the bulk of the field pitted midway into Stage 2, Menard stayed on track. He led a handful of laps before slipping backward and saved enough fuel to make it to the end of the stage in fifth. A quick caution in Stage 3 and a downpour under yellow kept The Wood Brothers Racing Team driver in fifth.
“We had a good car today and all weekend,” Menard said.
“We didn’t qualify as good as we would have hoped and went from the back and got put to the back twice. Once I sped and another time we got door slammed. I am really proud of my guys. We made a gutsy call to stay out on no tires with a bunch of laps on it. Gutsy call.
“We had the car to hold on though, so it worked out.”
Prior to the “Gutsy call,” Menard had been a mid-pack car. He moved forward, but was trapped battling with Chase Elliott, William Byron, and Daniel Suarez towards the tail-end of the top-10. Luck was in his favor on Lap 67 of the rain-shortened race that saw 133 laps completed as Suarez broke loose after clipping his left-rear. While Suarez spun into the grass, Menard kept his car in the right direction with no damage.
It was under that caution that he would pit for the last time prior to the end of the second stage.
The fifth-place finish was Menard’s first top-five since the July Daytona race last year, and the 20th of his career. It was also the first top-five finish for the Wood Brothers since the Kansas Playoff race with Ryan Blaney. The top-five moved Menard up to 16th in the Championship Points Standings, 337-points behind Points Leader Kyle Busch.
He is also just four points behind the cutoff for the Playoffs, held by Alex Bowman.
Now Menard, Erwin, and the entire Wood Brothers Racing Team will prepare for the twists and turns of Sonoma Raceway on June 24.