Paul Menard earned his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup victory Sunday, July 31 in the Brickyard 400 presented by Big Machine Records.com, surprising the field with a strategic fuel gamble and delivering long-sought glory to his family at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
COMPLETE 2011 BRICKYARD 400 COVERAGE FROM 1070 THE FAN
Menard held off the late charge of four-time Brickyard winner Jeff Gordon to win by .725 of a second in the No. 27 Nibco/Menards Chevrolet. Menard averaged 140.762 mph. It was the ninth consecutive Brickyard 400 victory for Chevrolet, dating back to 2003.
2011 BRICKYARD 400 FINAL RESULTS
Menard's father, John Menard, entered cars in the Indianapolis 500 in 1982 and 1984 and from 1990-2003, never winning "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing."
"I've been coming here since I was a little kid," Paul Menard said. "My dad has been coming here for 35 years. This is for my dad. A lot of emotions right now.
"I can't believe we won Indy. This is the greatest racetrack in the world."
Regan Smith finished third in the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet, while 2010 winner Jamie McMurray was fourth in the No. 1 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Chevrolet. Matt Kenseth rounded out the top five in the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford.
Menard made his final pit stop on Lap 123 with a large group of cars that gambled on stretching fuel to the finish. Gordon pitted for the last time from the lead on Lap 134.
Two-time Brickyard 400 winner Tony Stewart took over the lead on Lap 135, on a different fuel strategy from Menard and Gordon. Stewart dove into the pits for fuel on Lap 145, handing the lead to Menard.
McMurray passed Menard for the lead at the start-finish line on Lap 152, but Menard regained the lead in Turn 2 on Lap 157. Menard's crew chief, Slugger Labbe, told him the car had enough fuel for Menard to step on the gas over the closing laps.
"Slugger kept telling me where Jeff was," Menard said. "When he got to two, three seconds behind us, he said, 'Take off.' The car was really good. Clean air is so important. We had it right there."
But Gordon, with no fuel worries and fresher right-side tires, still closed his No. 24 Drive To End Hunger Chevrolet to within .688 of a second within Menard with one lap to go. But a lapped car between Menard and Gordon helped Menard expand that gap over the final lap.
"I knew there were some guys that were going to try to stretch it on fuel, and all I could do is run as hard as I could to put pressure on them and hope that I got there in time," Gordon said. "We got there just a little bit short.
"But Paul did a great job saving fuel because when I got there, even Regan and other guys, they were still pretty much checking up when I got there. It was easy to get by them. But Paul had saved enough to where he could go back to a full pace. By that time, my car was just too tight behind him."
Pole sitter David Ragan finished 23rd in the No. 6 UPS/Hall Of Fame/Ned Jarrett Ford. He led only one lap. Kasey Kahne dominated the race early, leading the first 47 of the first 51 laps from the second starting spot. He ended up 18th in the No. 4 Red Bull Toyota.
Indiana native Stewart finished sixth in the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet, while fellow Hoosier Ryan Newman was 12th in the Haas Automation Chevrolet.
The Crown Royal "Your Hero's Name Here" 400 at the Brickyard is scheduled for Sunday, July 29, 2012. It will be the fourth race of the inaugural Super Weekend at the Brickyard, which also will feature a NASCAR Nationwide Series race Saturday, July 28 and two GRAND-AM races Friday, July 27.
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