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Indy the perfect site for Menard's first win

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Indianapolis, IN (Sports Network) - Winning in the Sprint Cup Series for the first time has become a big deal for Paul Menard. Doing it in one of the most prestigious races of the season -- the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway -- is even a bigger deal for him.

Menard's win at Indy not only fulfilled a lifetime dream for him, but his family as well. His father, entrepreneur John Menard, had long yearned for a victory in the Indianapolis 500 as an IndyCar racing team owner and sponsor with his Midwestern home improvement store chain.

After 35 years of trying, Menard finally got to celebrate in Indy's Victory Lane on Sunday...thanks to his son.

"I've been coming here for a long, long time, but not nearly as long as my dad," Paul Menard said. "To be the first one after all those years of trying to win him a race at Indy, it's very special."

Menard conserved enough fuel to hold off a hard-charging Jeff Gordon at the finish to become the first driver to claim his maiden Sprint Cup win at the Brickyard.

"It was Paul's day," John Menard said. "But in a way, our whole family has been at the [Indianapolis Motor] Speedway for so long. We all tried very hard. Paul came down here as a very little guy. I remember smuggling him into the garage, because he was too young to be in there. He would be sitting on the workbench back there behaving himself. He had to be quiet or the yellow shirts would throw him out. He was there, always interested."

Menard prevented Gordon from tying Formula One legend Michael Schumacher for most wins at Indy with five. Gordon was one of many in the garage who congratulated Menard after the race.

"I'm so happy for him, and I think a lot of people are," Gordon said. "It's one thing to get your first win here, but it's another when you can appreciate how special it is to win here. I think Paul certainly has that."
Paul Menard, 30, is the latest driver whose first victory came in a big race this year.


Menard, 30, is the latest driver whose first victory came in a big race this year. One day after turning 20 years old, Trevor Bayne became the youngest winner of the Daytona 500. Regan Smith pulled off another shocker in May when he won the Southern 500 at Darlington. David Ragan was victorious at Daytona when the series ran its second race of the season there one month ago.

"I just know what it means to Paul," said Smith, who finished third at Indy. "He's one of the really good, close friends that I have on this circuit, and I always go to him if I have a question or need something. He always talks about coming up here. He always talks about how much he loves this place. I know if he had to highlight one race to get his first win, I'm sure he'll tell you in a minute he couldn't be happier."

Growing up in Eau Claire, WI, Menard spent his early racing career competing on short tracks throughout the Midwest. His inaugural Nationwide Series win came in 2006 at his home state track, The Milwaukee Mile. Menard spent his first two full-time seasons in Sprint Cup with Dale Earnhardt Inc. from 2007-08. He drove for Yates Racing/Richard Petty Motorsports the past two years.

One year ago, Menard signed with Richard Childress Racing to drive a fourth and new entry for the organization, starting in 2011. Team owner Richard Childress also brought on board crew chief Richard "Slugger" Labbe and a sponsorship from Menard's family-owned store chain.

"I caught a lot of flack back early last year when we decided to go with four teams," Childress said. "I knew if the right situation came along, we'd win. To get Slugger to come over and John Menard to support us, that was a big jump going in on a fourth team."

Childress won't be catching any flack at all if Menard qualifies for the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. Currently sitting 14th in points, Menard holds the second wild card position. Denny Hamlin presently occupies the first wild card spot, as he sits 11th in the rankings. Hamlin won in June at Michigan.

"We are a wild card," Menard said. "We've had an up and down year. We've had fast cars, but just been struggling to put the deal together and be consistent week-to-week."

That changed over the weekend.

With six races remaining before the Chase begins in September at Chicagoland, Menard hopes his win at Indy will be good enough to punch his ticket into the playoffs.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Chris Symeon at csymeon@sportsnetwork.com.

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