Paul Menard capitalized on crew chief Greg Erwin’s call to stay on the track during the race’s final caution period and came away with a season-best sixth-place finish in Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Erwin’s call, which vaulted Menard and his No. 21 Menards/Sylvania Ford Mustang from 13th place to fourth heading into the 14-lap dash to the finish line, was just one of several tactical decisions that kept the No. 21 team in the running for a strong finish in Sunday’s race.
Menard started the 500-lapper from ninth place, and the team used a similar stay-on-the-track strategy at the end of Stage One to finish that segment in eighth place, thereby earning three Stage points.
The team used the wave-around late in the second stage to regain a lost lap.
In the final segment of the race, Erwin again called for the wave-around during a caution period with just over 80 laps left to run.
That decision worked out in the Menard/Sylvania team’s favor as well, with another caution flag putting Menard back on the same pit sequence as the race leaders.
He was running outside the top 10 when the caution flag flew at Lap 486 of 500 for a spin by Kyle Larson.
Erwin’s decision to stay on the track boosted Menard to fourth place for the restart and paved the way for his sixth-place finish, which moved him up two positions in the points standings to 19th place, just four points behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who holds the 16th and final spot in the Playoff standings.
Menard said it was a great Bristol weekend all around, other than a minor mistake he made on a pit stop.
“We qualified really well and had good track position from the start,” he said. “I messed up our first pit stop and got us behind. I went to neutral to stop and it popped into third, so I killed the car. I put us behind doing that, and track position is so important.”
Menard also praised Erwin’s decision to not pit in the closing laps.
“Greg made a good call to stay out and we came home with a top 10,” he said.
Menard said the race was a good one from his perspective, thanks in large part to the preparation of the racing surface.
“I felt there were more options than normal,” he said. “That PJ1 [traction compound] stayed pretty much the whole race, where normally that goes away and you’re just going to the top, so I thought we had more options.”
Eddie Wood said Menard, Erwin and the pit crew had their best days of the young season.
“Paul did some great driving, especially on old tires,” he said. “The pit crew never made a mistake, and Greg made great calls all day.
“He used the wave-around twice to get us back on the lead lap, and his last-second call to not pit at the end was his best decision of the day.”
Menard and the No. 21 team return to the track next Saturday night at Richmond Raceway.