Eddie Wood, long-time observer of all things NASCAR, knows his team’s 16th-place finish in Sunday’s Gander Outdoors 400 at Dover International Speedway isn’t something he’d usually brag about – unless one considers how hard it was to come by.
His driver Paul Menard and the No. 21 Menards/Tarkett team started Sunday’s race at a disadvantage, having to line up 18th when a shower on Friday led to the starting line-up being set by car owner points.
Wood and the team’s pre-race fears came to fruition when the race opened with a long, green-flag run, which made it difficult for drivers like Menard who started back in the field to remain on the lead lap with the fast Ford of Kevin Harvick setting a blistering pace out front.
Menard came within a lap of remaining on the lead lap at the end of the first 120-lap stage but fell short of the free pass position by one spot.
From then on to the checkered flag, the Menards/Tarkett team turned to strategy in an attempt to rejoin the lead lap.
“When you’re in that position, you have to do something different than what the leaders do,” Wood said.
That meant taking the wave-around on several occasions and pitting later than the leaders on others. Crew chief Greg Erwin made the calls he had to make if he wanted to make up lost ground, and Menard did his part behind the wheel of the No. 21 Fusion, but the breaks rarely came their way.
“We’d get in position to make up a lap, and the caution just wouldn’t come,” Wood said, adding that the team’s strategy often left Menard on the track with much older tires than his competitors. “Paul ran really good on old tires and had some good lap times in spite of the tire disadvantage.”
At one point, Menard was three laps behind the leaders but ended the race as the first driver one lap down.
“It wasn’t a bad day by any means,” Wood said.
Menard and the No. 21 team now head to Talladega Superspeedway for Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500.