Paul Menard took the No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Ford Fusion for quite a ride in Sunday’s inaugural Monster Energy Cup Series race on the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway, leading the race at one point before a multi-car crash left him 33rd at the finish.
After starting 22nd, Menard used some skilled driving and smart pit strategy from crew chief Greg Erwin to race his way forward.
He was up to ninth place at one point early on and then on to fourth place as the top spots cycled back and forth with drivers on differing pit strategies.
Employing a strategy of pitting before most of his competitors, Menard pitted from eighth place near the end of the second stage, but lined up seventh for the start of the third and final segment of the race.
He moved up to fifth place on the restart and for most of the remainder of the race was among the top five, and often in the top two. He led laps 73 and 74 and was second or third for numerous laps after that, dropping back a few spots in order to save fuel.
But his day was undone on a restart with six laps remaining. Menard lined up sixth, but was among six drivers who were collected in a crash as the leaders entered turn one.
Unable to drive away from the crash, the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Fusion was towed to the garage and relegated to a 33rd-place finish.
Menard and other drivers involved in the crash said the track was especially slick in that area, and most expressed surprise that a group of leaders would simply drive into the wall at the same time.
Eddie Wood said he was impressed with his team’s performance and with Menard’s driving in particular.
“He drove his heart out,” Wood said.
Although the Wood Brothers and Menard saw their race end in disappointment, there was consolation in the fact that their previous driver Ryan Blaney and his No. 12 Menard crew at Team Penske, which shares an alliance with the Wood Brothers, wound up in Victory Lane.
“That’s four wins in the past five races for Team Penske,” Wood said. “You have to be impressed with what Team Penske the has done.”
“It never pays to count them out.”
Menard and the Wood Brothers will return to the track next week at Dover International Speedway for Sunday’s Gander Outdoors 400.