By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – For 51 out of the first 56 laps in last Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash, it was all Paul Menard, but as everyone knows, that dominant race evaporated after Jimmie Johnson ran into the back of his No. 21 Ford Mustang, causing a 17-car pileup that led to a win for the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion.
Menard wasn’t pleased with Johnson’s actions, but during Daytona 500 Media Day Wednesday, he reflected more on what happened after spending the previous day with his two kids at Disney World.
“It is what it is,” said Menard. “I felt like I was holding the wheel as good as I could and I thought the front was a pretty safe place. Jimmie did what he did to try to win, it was not intentional. Maybe I moved down a little bit, but there was no room for error and two cars collided.
As far as the two discussing the matter, it was all set and done, and have now put their incident aside.
“We talked this morning and we’re moving on. What’s done is done,” Menard bluntly explained. “We’re not looking at the rear-view mirror on that one, we’re just moving on.”
Johnson agreed that there was no ill intentions of what happened in the rain-plagued Clash, as it was a racing deal and self-aware how upset Menard was after the big one.
Now with that out of the way, it’s on the bigger picture, which is the 61st Daytona 500, a race the Wood Brothers Racing has had its greatest success over the years, with drivers such as A.J. Foyt, David Pearson, and Trevor Bayne winning the “Great American Race” for them.
Menard, who’s in his second season with the team, hopes he can bring home the team’s 100th win, more so after the team lost their patriarch Glen Wood last month. In his brief time getting to know him, Menard discussed how in his 90s, Glen remained sharp, no matter how many continuous changes the sport has made.
“I’ve spent some time with Glen last year up at the museum. He was an awesome guy who’s sharp,” Menard on Glen. “He knew everything that was going on with all the rules that NASCAR’s doing this year and what were doing with the race team eternally. He was pretty switched on, so spending some time with him and getting to know him a little bit. His wife is such a sweet lady and we like to do him proud for sure.”
The Eau Claire, Wisconsin native will carry a tribute helmet honoring Glen, with a special design featuring the famed beech tree, where the team began building their cars in Buffalo Ridge, Virginia back in 1950.
As for the race itself, if Menard can back up his Clash performance and pulls off the victory on Sunday, it’ll be his first Cup win since the 2011 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a race track that’s synonymous with the Menard family, notably his dad, John Menard, who’s sponsored and fielded cars for drivers such as Herm Johnson, Scott Brayton and Tony Stewart.
When asked which win will mean more, Menard replied that winning the Daytona 500 will be a big deal not just personally, but more so for the entire Wood Brothers No. 21 team.
“It would be right there with it. Indianapolis for me personally and my family was a big deal,” said Menard. “Winning Daytona would obviously be a big deal personally but sharing that with the Wood family would be make it even more special. The family started in 1950 and Daytona is their biggest race and would love to get them win No. 100.”
After a strong Clash for the Ford camp, led by Menard, he described the new Mustang can provide strong results right out of the gate and hopes it can match last season’s dominance with the old Fusion.
“The Ford Mustang came out of the box. That was the first true test at a speedway, and it was really strong. We had a lot of Fords upfront and feel really good about the design work they’ve done. If it starts off the year remotely close to where the Fusion was last year with the domination Ford had. We’re going to be in good shape.”