By Seth Eggert, Staff Writer
In a Daytona 500 that turned into a game of ‘survival of the fittest,’ Paul Menard survived to finish inside the top-10. It was Menard’s first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race with the Wood Brothers Racing Team. His No. 21 Omnicraft Ford Fusion was up front for much of the 500 miles at Daytona International Speedway.
On the final restart, Menard lined up in the back of the pack of cars that remained. He pushed Darrell ‘Bubba’ Wallace, Jr. forward as cars jockeyed for position. On the final lap, Menard, and others were lucky to avoid Aric Almirola as he was turned into the outside wall from the lead. By the time the field reached the start-finish line, Menard was in sixth as cars were spread out.
Menard escaped two separate incidents on his way to finish sixth. In a massive pile-up that wiped out over 10 cars, sparked by fellow Ford Performance drivers Kurt Busch and Ryan Blaney, Menard narrowly escaped. He darted off and back onto the banking as he and Wallace escaped the carnage. The duo were just two of about 10 undamaged cars left in the race.
“We had a really fast Omnicraft Ford today,” Menard explained. “These guys are awesome. Great race car. I ran upfront the first-half of the race. I got shuffled out. Denny (Hamlin) bumped me in Turn 3 and got loose and lost all my track position. I just kept fighting from there to get my track position back. Great run for us. We had shot to win the Daytona 500 at the end of the race. We just came up short. The Omnicraft Ford Fusion was a rocket ship. It was really fun tonight. I’m so proud of this team. The car was fast all day. We survived and were able to bring it back home in one piece.”
Earlier in the event, Menard narrowly escaped an incident that wiped out Brad Keselowski, Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick and others. He kept his Ford Fusion in line and steamed past the wreckage.
The sixth-place finish came in Menard’s 400th career start in NASCAR’s Premier Series. It also was his 59th career top-10 finish and his first since the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona last season. The stage points he earned combined with his sixth-place finish leaves Menard tied for second in the Championship Points standings with race winner Austin Dillon. Both drivers are six points behind points leader Blaney.
“To score points in all three stages is awesome,” Menard said looking ahead to later in the season. “That’s good for the overall picture. I had a shot at a stage win. It was a good points day for sure.”
Now Menard and his entire Wood Brothers Racing Team will continue their quest to earn the team’s 100th victory in the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday, February 25.