Paul Menard and the No. 21 Menards/Knauf Insulation team came within 10 laps of ending a great day of racing with a top-10 finish in the Coca-Cola 600, but a late caution ended up relegating them to a 14th-place finish.
Menard started Sunday’s marathon at Charlotte Motor Speedway from 17th place and spent much of the night running in the top 15 as crew chief Greg Erwin and the Menards/Knauf team adjusted their Mustang for the changing conditions as the race went from daytime to dark.
The further the race went, the better Menard’s Mustang performed, and when the green flag flew for a restart with 35 laps to go, he was in 10th place and on the move forward.
He’d gotten to seventh place when the race’s 16th and final caution flag flew with 10 laps remaining for a spin by Brad Keselowski.
Menard and most of the leaders headed to pit road for four fresh tires, but Menard lost six positions on pit road while his team repaired damage from a near miss when Kyle Larson and Austin Dillon collided just ahead of him.
He rejoined the race in 13th place, and with short runs not his strong suit, he ended the five-lap run to the finish in 14th place.
It was his sixth top-15 finish of the season.
Eddie Wood said he was pleased with the way his team worked on their car all night, and proud they were able to honor the late Specialist David Hickman, whose name appeared on the No. 21 Mustang as part of the 600 Miles of Remembrance, which honors service members who gave their lives for their country.
“Paul drove a great race and missed a lot of wrecks,” Wood said, adding that his driver ran hard for five full hours. “When he could restart in the outside line, he could really go. When he had to restart on the inside line, it took longer to get going.
“But we were never in danger of losing a lap, and it was a positive night all around.”
Wood also said he was happy for Menard’s father John Menard, who also is one of the No. 21 team’s major sponsors, and for Roger Penske as the Indianapolis 500 was won by Simon Pagenaud driving a car owned by Penske and sponsored by Menard’s.
“We’ve gotten to be good friends with Mr. Menard since Paul came to drive for us,” Wood said. “He’s been a big part of racing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for years. He’s very deserving of the victory, and we’re really happy for him.
“And Mr. Penske has a been a good friend for years, and we salute him for another win at Indy.”
Menard and the Wood Brothers team return to the track next week for a 400-miler at Pocono Raceway.