Indianapolis Speedway…carries history and prestige in its name alone. The NASCAR Sprint Cup series came to Indianapolis looking to add to the tracks history. It was David Ragan who earned the pole for the race and he would lead the field to the green. And it was Paul Menard adding his kiss to the bricks.
Paul Menard became the fourth first-time winner of the 2011 season on Sunday, the most since 2007. Menard joins Trevor Bayne (Daytona 500), Regan Smith (Southern 500) and David Ragan (Coke Zero 400) as the Sprint Cup drivers which have earned their first career victory this season.
Paul Menard wasn’t supposed to win this race. He wasn’t a favorite for the race win and he didn’t look like early on he would be a factor. The team though ran top 15 for much of the day and when the fuel strategy kicked into play Menard was in the lead and he was able to save enough fuel.
Menard was able to hold off a hard charging Jeff Gordon to win his first career race and one of the biggest races of the year. His win also puts him in position to make the Chase as a wildcard if he can maintain the next several races. Gordon was coming on Sunday afternoon but he was one lap short on running down Menard but Gordon should be pleased at their finish on Sunday. He had the best car all day long. Consistently running in the top five and only fuel mileage forced them to drive from 16th to second in the final 20 laps. Now, the what if factor could be used in saying that “what if there were 2 more laps left?” maybe Jeff would have been in victory lane for the 5th time at the Brickyard. But we will never know that answer.
His second place finish continues a hot summer for a driver who after the race said “Not bad for an old man”. He maintains seventh in the standings but has been the most consistent driver since Kansas in June. Next week they head to Pocono where Gordon will be looking to sweep the season races there.
The pit boxes at IMS are big but the actual pit road is narrow. Its narrow because as we know the track was built for open wheel cars.
On Sunday pit road proved to be a game changer for some. Tony Stewart and Kyle Busch made contact on pit road. Both suffered some damage and Stewart had some tow damage. Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers made contact giving both some tire rubs. All would continue on in the race but those pit road issues hampered their chances for a win. Johnson wound up 19th, Stewart finished sixth and Busch finished 10th.
Denny Hamlin started at the rear of the field after engine failure in practice on Friday. Through pit strategy he worked his way into the top 10. The car though was never good enough to battle up front he cycled into 27th.
A multicar wreck ended promising runs for one of the most dominate cars all day. Kasey Kahne ran up front in the early part of the race but struggles on pit road and damage from a ride through the grass on lap 120. He wound up finishing 18th and led the most laps which seem to be dooms day at Indy. Now we had to Long Pond, PA for the tricky triangle!