When Paul Menard looks back on his 2011 win in the Brickyard 400, at Indianapolis, there’s one memory that means even more now that he’s the driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford Mustang.
“I met Leonard Wood,” Menard said. “He came up and shook my hand the next week.”
Winning at a historic venue like Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is something any driver treasures, but it’s extra special for Menard because of his father John Menard’s years of participation at Indianapolis as both a car owner and sponsor. Young Paul was along for many of those Indy races.
“I spent a lot of time as a kid at Indianapolis in the garage area learning about race cars, up in the stands watching it as a fan,” he said. “To actually win at Indianapolis is a dream come true.”
Menard will be trying to duplicate that feat this weekend when he takes to the track in the No. 21 Menards/Dutch Boy/Body Armor Ford Mustang.
It’s the 26th and final race of the Cup circuit’s regular season, and Menard, who is 19th in the points standings, needs a win at Indy to be among the 16 drivers who will start the 10-race, season-ending run for the championship.
For much of the season, Menard and the No. 21 team tried to position themselves to make the playoff based on their position in the points standings but came up a bit short.
“If we go back to June or early July we kind of switched up our mindset,” he said. “The points situation had us 50-60 points out and figured we could get some stage points and kind of chip away, and we did.
“We got some stage points and things, but didn’t get the finishes that we needed. So now over the last month or so everything we do is not for stage points, but finishing position. Basically, right now the only way we can get in is to win the race, so throw caution to the wind and pull a rabbit out of the hat.”
Menard said that while his playoff chances are a long shot, he still has confidence in his No. 21 race team.
“A little frustrated where we’re at, but I’m really proud of my team,” he said. “I’ve got a really good group of guys that we have a lot of fun together, and we’re all in it together trying to get better.”
Qualifying for the Big Machine Vodka 400 at the Brickyard is set for Sunday at 10:35 a.m., and the race is scheduled to start just after 2 p.m., also on Sunday, with TV coverage on NBCSN.