ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – The decision to compete in Saturday afternoon’s NASCAR XFINITY Series sixth annual Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville at Road America (Wis.) paid off in a huge way for Paul Menard who scored his third career XFINITY victory at his hometown track.
Menard, a native of Eau Claire, Wis. started eighth and saw a decision to stay out after pitting on Lap 24 work to his advantage as he edged out a relentless Ryan Blaney by 0.573 seconds at the 14-turn road course. After the contest, Menard said had the race extended a lap further, he would not have collected his first XFINITY win since Michigan International Speedway last June.
“I’ve been really fortunate to win at some of the coolest tracks, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, Road America is right there,” Menard said. “These guys called a great race. We didn’t have the fastest car. We had a really good short run car. We really burned off the rear tires as we ran, but the Richmond Water Heaters / Menards Chevrolet was fast and (crew chief Danny) Stockman made a hell of a call at the end.”
If wondering about running out of fuel wasn’t enough, Menard also had to fend off a hard-charging Blaney.
“I was definitely concerned,” added Menard on both circumstances. “I was saving as much as I could under caution, but then when we fired off I was just chattering the left rear tire really bad. It took a couple of laps for it to come in, then the (No.) 22 started burning his stuff up, but it just didn’t fire off very good in the end, but it came to us.”
After inclement weather forced the cancelation of Coors Light Pole qualifying, Ben Rhodes earned the top starting spot based upon turning the fastest lap at the 4.05-mile road course in the first XFINITY Series practice session Friday afternoon.
Rhodes, a NASCAR Next alum, would find himself under pressure from the drop of the green flag when JR Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott made the move for the lead in Turn 1. Quickly, though, the field would be under the first full-course caution of the day when Tomy Drissi found himself stuck in the gravel trap in Turn 5.
Racing resumed on Lap 4 with Elliott checking out from the field and before the first round of green-flag pit stops. The reigning champion stretched his lead to over 10 seconds, when he relinquished the top spot on Lap 11 for a routine pit stop.
Championship contender Ty Dillon inherited the lead when Elliott pitted. Dillon, who finished 10th, stretched his fuel run an extra lap to earn a crucial bonus point towards the championship picture.
When pit stops cycled through, Elliott reclaimed the point on Lap 16 and built a 13.7-second lead over second-place Brian Scott at the halfway mark. On Lap 22, the second caution waved for fluid on the track, erasing Elliott’s substantial advantage.
Despite half of the field electing to come to pit road for service behind them, Elliott and his JRM team stood firm on their plan and stayed out. On the restart, Elliott withstood a challenge for Brian Scott and Ryan Blaney, but in Turn 14 and through the frontstretch, Scott mounted the pressure and made the move on Elliott to take the lead on Lap 27.
Unable to make it to the end on fuel, Scott pitted under green on Lap 29 handing the lead to defending race winner Brendan Gaughan. Three laps later, though, Gaughan pitted, handing the lead to hometown hero Paul Menard who pitted during the second caution with 13 laps remaining.
Planning to stay out till the end, Menard in saving mode purposely gave up the lead to Blake Koch who led with 10 laps remaining when pole-sitter Rhodes found himself stuck in the gravel trap in Turn 7 issuing the third full course caution. During the extended caution, Koch lost power putting Menard back at the point.
On the Lap 41 restart, Menard withstood challenges from Darrell Wallace Jr. and Blaney to seal the win in his 197th career start.
Next up for the NASCAR XFINITY Series is a trip to the track dubbed “Too Tough To Tame” at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway for the VFW Sport Clips Help A Hero 200 on Sept. 5 (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC).
NASCAR XFINITY Series Race – Road America 180 Fired Up by Johnsonville
1. (8) Paul Menard(i), Chevrolet, 45, $44401.
2. (3) Ryan Blaney, Ford, 45, $44938.
3. (5) Brian Scott, Chevrolet, 45, $35687.
4. (2) Chase Elliott, Chevrolet, 45, $38976.
5. (17) Darrell Wallace Jr. #, Ford, 45, $32908.
6. (7) Boris Said, Toyota, 45, $26329.
7. (4) Justin Marks, Chevrolet, 45, $26863.
8. (12) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 45, $23729.
9. (6) Chris Buescher, Ford, 45, $23450.
10. (13) Ty Dillon, Chevrolet, 45, $24122.
11. (26) Michael Self, Chevrolet, 45, $23096.
12. (9) Elliott Sadler, Ford, 45, $23019.
13. (25) Dylan Lupton, Chevrolet, 45, $22919.
14. (14) Kenny Habul, Toyota, 45, $22792.
15. (15) Andy Lally, Chevrolet, 45, $23116.
16. (16) Brendan Gaughan, Chevrolet, 45, $22640.
17. (33) Kevin O’Connell, Chevrolet, 45, $16738.
18. (23) Lawson Aschenbach, Chevrolet, 45, $22437.
19. (24) Ryan Reed, Ford, 45, $22361.
20. (27) David Starr, Toyota, 45, $22811.
21. (22) Blake Koch, Toyota, 45, $22235.
22. (20) Ryan Sieg, Chevrolet, 45, $22189.
23. (28) Eric McClure, Toyota, 45, $22154.
24. (10) Daniel Suarez #, Toyota, 45, $22093.
25. (34) Tim Cowen, Ford, 45, $16172.
26. (40) Stanton Barrett, Ford, 45, $15986.
27. (32) Ross Chastain #, Chevrolet, 44, $21951.
28. (11) Jeremy Clements, Chevrolet, 44, $21921.
29. (35) Joey Gase, Chevrolet, 44, $21885.
30. (36) Derrike Cope, Chevrolet, 43, $16140.
31. (37) Roger Reuse, Chevrolet, 43, $15794.
32. (1) Ben Rhodes, Chevrolet, 41, $21749.
33. (18) Dylan Kwasniewski, Chevrolet, 41, $15718.
34. (19) Dakoda Armstrong, Ford, 41, $21698.
35. (21) JJ Yeley, Toyota, 35, $21661.
36. (29) Tomy Drissi, Toyota, 35, $20158.
37. (31) Cale Conley #, Toyota, Rear Gear, 22, $19158.
38. (38) Derek White, Dodge, Transmission, 22, $12158.
39. (39) Morgan Shepherd, Chevrolet, Brakes, 7, $11158.
40. (30) Jeff Green, Toyota, Transmission, 2, $10158.
Chris Knight – NASCAR Wire Service
Image: Jonathan Moore/NASCAR via Getty Images