Paul Menard and the No. 21 Menards/Dutch Boy Ford team qualified a season-best seventh on Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway.
For most of this season, Menard and the No. 21 team have been fast in the first of three rounds of knock-out qualifying but struggled in the second. On Friday at Bristol, they were consistently fast throughout all three rounds.
At Bristol, Menard was fast again in the first round, posting the fourth best speed of 127.563 miles per hour to easily be among the 24 drivers who advanced to the second round.
In Round Two, he was 11thfastest with a lap at 127.360 mph, securing his spot among the 12 who competed for the pole for Sunday’s Food City 500.
In the final round, Menard ran a lap at 127.980 mph to take the seventh starting spot. It is the fifth time in his career that he has started seventh or better at Bristol, the first four coming before he joined the No. 21 team.
Menard told reporters after qualifying that the strong qualifying effort at Bristol is a sign that he and crew chief Greg Erwin are building on the base laid by their immediate predecessors, Ryan Blaney and his crew chief Jeremy Bullins.
“We have a great foundation, for sure with what the 21 guys have done the last couple of years,” Menard said. “They all kind of moved to the 12 car, but they laid a great foundation.
“Greg Erwin has done a hell of a job with all these guys on my car. We qualified seventh, and we’re actually disappointed with that.
“I thought I could have gotten a little bit more that last run and I’ll go back and look at Dartfish to see what I could have done better for next time, but it’s a good start to the weekend.”
Menard also addressed the possibility of scoring the 100thcareer Cup victory for his Wood Brothers team.
“Bristol would be a hell of a place for that,” he said. “I remember watching the race when Elliott (Sadler) won, but they’re sitting at 99, and we definitely want to give them 100.
“We’re not picky. We’ll take it whenever we can, and it starts this weekend.”
There are two practice sessions set for Saturday, then the Food City 500 is scheduled to start just after 2 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on FOX.