Paul Menard and the No. 21 Menards/Knauf team didn’t advance out of Saturday’s Monster Energy Open into the All-Star race, but they did do a commendable job of helping showcase a new set-up package for the Monster Energy Cup Series cars.
For the All-Star weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the cars were equipped with an aerodynamic package that significantly increased downforce. That was accompanied by restrictions on the engines that drastically reduced horsepower.
The result was a much slower Open, but the side-by-side racing and dueling for the lead had fans posting positive comments on social media as soon as the race ended.
From the start Menard and the No. 21 Fusion were among the fastest in the field of drivers without a guaranteed berth in the all-star race.
Menard started fifth in the opening segment after rain on Friday led to the starting line-up being set by car owner points.
Menard finished fourth in the first 20-lap Stage and eighth in the second after brushing the wall in the closing laps.
He lined up on the back row for the final 10-lap dash to the checkered flag but came charging forward and was in the battle for the lead by the halfway mark before settling for fourth place at the finish.
Team co-owner Eddie Wood said he saw some of the same positives about the All-Star package as the fans posting on Twitter.
“It was an interesting race,” Wood said. “I think NASCAR probably has something to work with, but I don’t know when we will see something like this again.”
Wood said the racing on Saturday was similar to restrictor plate races in an earlier era.
“It reminded me of the old Daytona,” he said.
The veteran team owner also said the Open showcased the talents of his current driver.
“Paul drove a great race,” Wood said. “It took some doing to come from the back to the top five in just 10 laps.”
Menard and the Menards/Knauf team now turn their attention to the Coca-Cola 600, which kicks off with practice and qualifying on Thursday, May 24, and the 400-lap finale next Sunday night, May 27.