Paul Menard turned his best lap of the weekend at Darlington Raceway during qualifying on Saturday afternoon when he toured the Track Too Tough To Tame at 170.324 miles per hour. That puts him in 17th position for the start of Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500.
Menard was ninth quickest in Friday’s opening practice with a best lap at 168.792 mph. In the final Happy Hour practice session he was 20th on the speed chart with a best lap at 167.174 mph.
He told reporters after qualifying that track conditions were different on Saturday than what he was expecting.
“I felt there was more grip than I anticipated,” he said. “Yesterday the track was hot and slippery with all the cars running, and now you’re out here by yourself and the track doesn’t have as much heat in it, and it’s got a lot of grip.”
Menard was one of the first drivers to hit the track, but he said that wasn’t much of a factor.
“The sun is going to get a little bit lower in the sky, but the air temp is actually supposed to go up a little bit, so I don’t think that’s an issue,” he said.
Menard also said he’s enjoying this year’s version of Darlington’s Throwback-themed weekend, which has his No. 21 Motorcraft/Quick Lane Mustang painted in the same colors that team founder Glenn Wood had on the 1957 Ford he raced in his lone Darlington appearance.
“It’s been good,” he said, adding that honoring history goes hand in hand with driving for the Wood Brothers, NASCAR’s oldest continuously operating race team. “Every week kind of feels like a throwback with these guys. They’re a lot of fun to be with. Eddie and Len always have a story to tell and when Mr. Leonard comes to the race track it’s always a good time.”
Menard also said he enjoyed the Wood Brothers documentary that was shown on NBCSN on Friday night and will be re-aired on the same channel at 4 p.m. on Sunday.
“I watched it and I feel like I knew a fair bit about the history, just by hanging out with the Wood family the last two years, but I learned more last night,” he said. “I thought it was pretty neat to kind of put it in Glenn’s own words, what he was going through, and it’s an hour-long episode where they have to try and pack in 70 years’ worth of history.
“They didn’t cover it all, but they covered a lot of interesting stories.”
Menard will try to add another chapter to the Wood Brothers story when the green flag drops for the Southern 500 just after 6 p.m. on Sunday. NBCSN will air the broadcast.