Paul Menard became the fourth first-time winner last Sunday when he stretched his final tank of gas to 35 laps to win the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Menard’s father tried unsuccessfully for 35 years to win the Indianapolis 500 as a car owner. The son finally gave the family a reason to celebrate when Menard drove the No. 27 Chevrolet to a seven car length win over Jeff Gordon.
Menard talked about his win after the race. Here are excerpts of that interview:
Question: What is the significance of your win?
Menard: Man, I've been coming here for a long, long time, but not nearly as long as my dad. To be the first one after all those years of trying to win him a race at Indy, very special.
Question: Why do you love Indianapolis so much?
Menard: A lot of great drivers have driven for my dad, Johnny Rutherford, Herm Johnson was the guy that got everybody started in racing, back in the '70s. A lot of great drivers. He's had a lot of great friends through the years from Indy. One of them was Richard. Robby and Richard, you know, came up and met. I was in a meeting; we were at a little pizza shop or something in Eau Claire (Wis.). They wanted to put an IndyCar program together. Kept in touch ever since. The time was right in 2011 to pull the trigger and get it done. You can't thank Richard enough for kind of going out on a limb with me and allowing me to bring Slugger (Labbe, crew chief) with. Slugger is a great friend, works as hard as anybody in this garage. He's won a Daytona 500 and now he's won at the Brickyard 400.
Question: If you grew up around IndyCars, why did you switch to stock cars?
Menard: That's pretty easy. Grew up in Wisconsin. There's no feeder series for IndyCars. You can't race IndyCars being in Wisconsin. There's a lot of short tracks, a lot of legends, late models. Go kart thing. 15, 16, started racing legend's cars. Hooked up with Bryan Reffner. Actually brought out Richard's truck team. He was selling his truck team. Bryan came in to buy that. Let me drive his car. We won a heat race, finished fourth. Got a Late Model, started racing that. At one point we were racing three or four nights a week. That's Wisconsin short track racing.
Question: You’ve received some flack because your father’s home improvement warehouse is the sponsor. To some it appears you father bought you the ride. Does this vindicate you?
Menard: I mean, we're winners in Sprint Cup. That's the big deal. To do it at Indy, even bigger deal. Can't change people's opinions. They're going to say what they want to say. That's fine with me. We'll celebrate this. We'll enjoy it. We're going to work hard for Pocono, try to make the Chase. Whatever they say, they say. Can't control it. I know what I'm capable of. I have total belief in Richard, Slugger and everybody. I think we can win a couple more.
Question: You don’t seem too emotional about your win. Why?
Menard: That's probably about as much emotion as you'll see out of me. I've always been kind of a low key guy. Doesn't make it any less special. It's very special for me. It's just something that we work hard for, something that Richard expects us to win. He's won a lot of races. Just really gratifying that we could pull it through.
Question: The win pushed you into contention to qualify for the Chase for the Championship? How important is that?
Menard: Yeah, I think we're 14th now with the wild card. Yeah, I mean, it's great. We got five or six races left. We got a lot of work to do. We have Richmond and New Hampshire. Those are two of our worst tracks honestly. We have a lot of work to do. We'll rely on our teammates a lot. They typically run well at the short tracks. Got to get that program figured out. We have a couple intermediate tracks, have a couple of those, looking forward to that. We have Atlanta for a million bucks.
Question: Do you think guys are going to make some bold moves in the next six races to make the Chase?
Menard: You're going to see it. Anytime fuel mileage comes into play, you'll see guys run out, probably guys going to win the race. The Sprint Cup Series is just so competitive, so hard to pass, everybody runs so close together, you got to gamble. Very rarely do you see a car just check out and win the race. A lot of strategy, a lot of clean air. You're going to see it happen the next few races.
Question: Does this win mean more to you because you spent so much time here trying to win the Indianapolis 500 than the guys who are from Indiana?
Menard: Right on par with them. I'm not an Indiana native son, but Wisconsin is not far away and I spent a helluva lot of time here as a kid. I probably been here more days than probably all three of them combined, honestly. Special place for us.