Monster Energy Cup Series races at Pocono Raceway more often than not boil down to fuel-mileage gambles and pit strategy plays. Sunday’s Gander RV 400 was no different.
Paul Menard and the No. 21 Menards/Duracell Batteries team, like other contenders, played the fuel/pit strategy game throughout Sunday’s race, only to be outdone by untimely caution flags and ending up 18th at the finish.
Menard qualified 21st on Saturday afternoon, but moved up five spots in the starting order when five drivers ahead of him dropped to the rear after their cars failed a pre-race inspection.
He moved up into the top 10 in the first 50-lap Stage through a combination of him passing cars and others ahead of him making mid-Stage stops for fuel.
After making his own stop later in the Stage, Menard wound up 19th at the end of Stage One.
He stayed on the track during the caution following the stage and restarted the second segment in sixth place. He moved up to fourth place before making his stop for fuel and tires.
The Menards/Duracell team saw their Stage Two strategy, which should have resulted in stage points, foiled by a caution for a crash by Chase Elliott.
Menard lined up 13th for the start of the final segment and tried another strategy play when the caution flag flew on Lap 114 for a crash by Ryan Preece.
Crew chief Greg Erwin had Menard pit for fuel and tires, then top off the tank just before the restart, tactics which would put him in position to capitalize should the race run green to the finish, as many teams ahead of them were close to running out of fuel.
Once again, the gamble didn’t pay off as a caution for a stalled car on the backstretch with eight laps remaining allowed the teams short on fuel to make it to the finish without running dry.
Menard gained nine spots on the first restart, to 16th place, then lost two on the overtime restart to end up 18th.
Eddie Wood said that sometimes even the best thought-out strategies don’t work out.
“The cautions fell at exactly the wrong times for us today,” he said. “We weren’t going to win the race, but we could have had decent finish if the cautions had fallen in our favor.
“We’ll take what we got and move on to Watkins Glen.”