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Menard realizes dream of Brickyard win




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Disclaimer:
Amanda Vincent is responsible for this content, which is not edited by the Wilson County News or wilsoncountynews.com.

August 3, 2011 | 1,695 views | Post a comment

(Corrected Aug. 4)

Paul Menard dreamed of driving a race car into victory lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway pretty much his entire life. That dream came true on Sunday when he held off a charging Jeff Gordon to claim victory in the Brickyard 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. The win was Menard’s first-career Sprint Cup Series victory.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid,” Menard said in victory lane. “I can believe we won Indy.”

Menard was among a handful of drivers who pitted for the final time during a caution that came out on lap 120 of the 160-lap race. Most of the other competitors pitted to top off with fuel a few laps after the race restarted to ensure that they’d be able to go the distance on fuel.

Meanwhile, those who chose to make the stop under caution their final stop of the race went into fuel conservation mode for the remaining laps.

“I was saving a little bit,” Menard said. “I knew we saved plenty of fuel.”

Menard and last year’s winner, Jamie McMurray, opted to go the fuel conservation route and ran first and second for most of the remaining laps, with Menard holding down the lead and McMurray running second. McMurray got by Menard to claim the top spot with nine laps to go. With four to go, Menard’s crew chief, Slugger Labbe, informed his driver over the radio that he had saved enough fuel and that Jeff Gordon was coming, so it was time to go. Gordon was the highest-running driver of those who made a late-race green flag stop and were certain they had enough fuel to make it to the finish.

Gordon said that he thought getting off pit road ahead of Kevin Harvick during that last cycle of green flag stops for some would actually be the race for the win. He didn’t count on Menard, McMurray and the others who didn’t pit under green to be able to stretch their fuel mileage enough to make it the rest of the way.

Menard quickly got back by McMurray, and Gordon soon did too, leaving Menard and Gordon to battle for the race win. According to Gordon, his car got tight in the late-going and the only way he was going to beat Menard was if Menard ran out of fuel. That didn’t happen, though, and Menard finally realized his dream of celebrating in Indianapolis’ victory lane. Gordon finished second.

Regan Smith also got by McMurray in the closing laps to finish third. McMurray wound up fourth, and Matt Kenseth rounded out the top-five.

“That’s the most bittersweet third-place finish of all-time,” Smith said, adding the seeing Menard win was the sweet part.

Varying pit strategies every time the yellow flag waved -- from staying out to pitting and from taking two tires to taking four -- shuffled the running order near the front of the pack throughout the day, but the No. 4 of Kasey Kahne and the No. 24 of Gordon were the most dominant cars throughout the race.

Kahne took the race lead from pole-sitter David Ragan on lap one and dominated the first third of the race. Gordon then took over and looked to be the class of the field, except when he’d get shuffled back through pit strategy. While Gordon finished in the runner-up spot, Kahne was relegated to an 18th-place finish by the end.
 
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