Not only did Paul Menard get his first win in the Sprint Cup series this weekend, he also won one of the biggest races one the schedule. Crew chief Slugger Labbe calculated fuel perfectly and allowed Menard to beat out Jeff Gordon for the win.
Menard becomes the only driver to earn his first career Cup victory in the Brickyard 400. This is the fourth time this year we have had a first time winner. This is also the first time in history that there’s been a first-time winner in the Daytona 500, the Southern 500 and the Brickyard 400 in same year.
No. 24 Team Bringing Their A-Game
For Gordon, second place was bittersweet. Gordon had a fast car throughout the race, and may have won the race if there were a few more laps. Gordon’s finish kept him seventh in the standings and he is very upbeat about his chance to win the Sprint Cup championship.
“While we didn’t win, I think we definitely showed that we’re a championship-caliber team. We’ve been knocking on the door, getting closer every single weekend, won a couple races. For me, this is going to be a huge boost for this race team and hopefully a bit of a statement to the competition as well, that we’re serious about our efforts at a championship this year.” Gordon said after the race. There is no doubt that the No. 24 team is on their game.
Stewart Rebounds From Early Mistake
Tony Stewart, being an Indianapolis native and having two wins at the famed track, was an automatic pick for this year’s race. Unfortunately, early on in the race Stewart had trouble. On lap 27 while pitting under green, Stewart hit the commitment cone and was forced to make a pass through penalty. Stewart said that Clint Bowyer, who was pitting ahead of him, pushed him into the commitment cone. Stewart made an awesome comeback and was leading the race with 15 to go. He was forced to give up his lead, however, to pit for fuel. He managed to finish in sixth position. This finish moved Smoke to ninth in points.
Is It Time for Earnhardt Jr Fans To Panic?
Last week I asked if it was time for Junior Nation to hit the panic button. I was so sure that Indy would be where Dale Earnhardt Jr turned things around. Earnhardt had a fast car and was gaining ground on the leaders early in the race when his oil temps shot up to 300 degrees. He had grass on the grill from when he drove through the grass to avoid being in an accident. Junior was then forced to pit at lap 45 to remove the debris.
Fortunately for him, a caution came out a few laps later, allowing him to stay out and take over the race lead. Eventually Junior had to pit for right side tires and ended up losing positions on pit road. Long story short, Dale finished the race in 16th position and dropped to 10th in points. He is now just 19 points out of 11th position. Now is it time to panic?
Let’s look at the facts. The next two races are not Junior’s best tracks, Pocono Raceway and Watkins Glen International. But, if he can have consistent runs and keep himself in the top 10 in points, he has better tracks coming up that may save his Chase hopes. Michigan International Speedway, Bristol Motor Speedway, and Atlanta Motor Speedway are some of Earnhardt’s best statistical tracks.
Failing to make the Chase cannot be an option for the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team. For the sake of his team and his fans, he has to make it in. I think Junior will have great runs at his best tracks, but will it be enough?
Next week we head back to the tri-oval of Pocono. Hopefully there will be just as much excitement as the Brickyard gave us!