Paul Menard and the No. 21 Menards/Richmond Ford Mustang will roll off in 24th place for the start of Sunday’s 350-kilometer race on the now-12-turn Sonoma Raceway.
Menard toured the track at 94.224 miles per hour during qualifying Saturday afternoon.
He was 11th fastest in the opening practice with a lap at 93.475 mph and was 18th best in Happy Hour with a lap at 93.735 mph.
Menard said in a media session of Friday that he likes the new layout at Sonoma, which features a return of the “Carousel” turn which lengthens the course from 1.99 miles to 2.52 miles.
“I really like it,” he said. “It adds a little more character to this track. The old track didn’t have as much character as it does now. It is a good thing.”
Menard said he and the Menards/Richmond team have spent the past two days trying to maximize the performance of their Mustang, since each turn can be a critical one.
“There are some key places that you really have to get off the corner so you don’t get passed on the next corner,” he said. “You make time or lose time anywhere here. If you have one bad corner but it is a corner that they can’t get to you because you have been better everywhere else then it doesn’t really matter.”
He said he’s enjoyed learning to navigate the Carousel.
“It was cool,” he said. “I have watched it a bunch on TV with IndyCar and sports cars.
“It is smaller than what I thought. I thought it would be wider, a more opened up corner than it is. It is really pretty narrow and kind of a short corner.”
Menard said he thinks he’s got it figured out for Sunday.
“I think we have a pretty good understanding of where the car needs to be and where you need to position yourself to get a good run off,” he said. “It kind of suckers you in to picking up the throttle too soon which just washes you up on exit, and you don’t get to wide open throttle as quick that way. You have to have some patience for sure.”
But he wouldn’t change a thing.
“I love it,” he said. “It is a good change. It is fun. It is a fun course for sure. I would say it is probably the most fun I have had driving a race car this year.”
Sunday’s race is set to get the green flag at noon (3 p.m. Eastern Time) with TV coverage on FOX Sports 1.