Paul Menard and the No. 21 Menards/Sylvania team hope to build on their speed from 2018 at Bristol Motor Speedway as they prepare for this weekend’s Food City 500 at the high-banked Tennessee track.
Crew chief Greg Erwin said he plans to begin Friday’s practice with a set-up on the No. 21 Mustang similar to the one the team employed last year when Menard qualified seventh for the spring race and fourth for the summer event. Menard was running third last spring when the race was halted due to weather and resumed the next day under different weather conditions that adversely affected the handling of the No. 21.
Last fall, Menard was again running competitively and had a mechanical issue that dropped him out of contention for a great finish.
“We’re going to put what we had last year under the car and see how it drives,” Erwin said, adding that there will be new challenges this year including dealing with a new aero package, a new tire compound from Goodyear and the variables that come with applying the PJ1 traction compound to the track and how the weather affects the treated area. “There are a lot of things to deal with.”
Erwin said the traction compound will be the hardest to predict, especially when the weather is factored in.
“You have to deal with what level of PJ1 is applied, where it’s applied and whether the weather will allow the PJ1 to come in,” he said, adding that the traction compound isn’t very effective if conditions are cold.
Erwin said his race strategy at Bristol will be typical of races there in that if he’s running in the lead group, he’ll do what the leaders do, and if he gets off sequence, he’ll utilize a different strategy to catch back up.
“How you call the race changes depending on where you’re running,” he said.
Erwin also has to figure into his set-up and his race strategy the likelihood that at some point in the race, drivers will find themselves running against the outside wall, in a groove most aren’t likely to practice in beforehand.
“That’ll be another unknown,” he said.
Qualifying for the Food City 500 is set for 6:10 p.m. on Friday, and the race is scheduled to start just after 2 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on Fox Sports 1.