Paul Menard and the No. 21 New Ford Tech Mustang were the dominant team in Sunday’s Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona. But after starting from the pole and leading 51 of the race’s first 55 laps, Menard lost the top spot and a potential victory after contact with eventual winner Jimmie Johnson.
Menard wound up 13th at the finish of race, which was called because of rain before it could be restarted following the Lap 55 “Big One.”
He took some consolation in setting a record for laps led in the Clash. He broke the old record of 47 laps led, which was set by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2008.
“That’s something for the history books, I guess,” he said. “Unfortunately, we just got turned there. I didn’t really know what happened until I saw a replay. I felt like it was aggressive side-drafting. I got turned to the inside and hooked to the right and all hell broke loose.”
He said that given the fact that rain was imminent, he wasn’t surprised to see drivers becoming more aggressive in the latter portion of the of the non-points race for pole winners from he previous season and others.
“It was a pretty tame race up until that point,” he said. “We knew that last restart was basically a new race – a little dash for cash to the end.
“It was definitely expected. I’m surprised we actually got single-file up top again after that last restart, but I knew something like that was going to happen. It was just a matter of time.”
Menard and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane team now turn their attention to Thursday’s Gander RV Duels.
Menard will start the first Duel from sixth place after posting the 11thfastest time in pole qualifying on Sunday.
Menard’s lap at 191.196 miles per hour in the first round of qualifying sent him to the final round, where he turned a lap at 191.107 mph.
He said he was proud of his qualifying performance, given the fact that he and his Greg Erwin-led crew decided ahead of time to tune the No. 21 Mustang with an eye toward better handling in the Duels, which will set the starting line-up for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
“We picked up a little bit from our mock runs [Saturday], so I was happy with that,” he said. “We didn’t really figure we had a shot at the front row, so we put a little bit of driveability in the race car with it being an impound for the duels, knowing that we were going to give up a little bit in qualifying because of that.
“I was happy with having the speed in the car, plus the driveability we have.”
The Gander RV Duels are scheduled to start at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 14, with TV coverage on Fox Sports 1, and the green flag for the Daytona 500 is set to fly at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 17, at 2:30 p.m., with TV coverage on FOX.