Paul Menard and the No. 21 Menards/FVP team overcame one cut tire in Sunday’s Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., but couldn’t completely overcome two and wound up with a 19th-place finish.
Menard started 14th but soon raced his way into the top 10 and ran around 10th for most of the first 30 laps of the race. Soon after that, some damage to the right-rear of the No. 21 Fusion put Menard and the team in catch-up mode. But it wound up being a problem with the other side of the car with 11 laps remaining in Stage Two that presented the bigger challenge.
Just as the caution flag flew for a crash by Trevor Bayne, Menard suffered his first flat tire. He drove to pit road for repairs and rejoined the race one lap down, but with damage to the inner fender, which made the driving compartment uncomfortably hot and also presented an aerodynamic disadvantage.
But Menard quickly motored by the lap-down drivers ahead of him to get in position to claim the free pass at the end of Stage Two, which returned him to the lead lap.
He started the third stage in 30th place, and moved all the way to 17th in just two laps.
After another caution, he worked his way into the top 10 just before the second flat tire cost him another lap.
Menard returned to the track in 29th place and made it to 19th at the finish in a green-flag run to the finish.
Team co-owner Eddie Wood said that despite all the issues throughout the race, his race team put on a performance to be proud of.
“Paul did a great job,” Wood said. “He didn’t wreck the car when the tires went down, and he had a great run at the end to gain 10 spots in just a few laps.
“The pit crew had a good day, and [crew chief] Greg Erwin made good calls.
“We had a top-10 car for most of the race. We just had a lot of things go wrong.”
Menard and the No. 21 Wood Brothers now team head to Martinsville Speedway, the home track for the Wood Brothers, in 15th place in the Monster Energy Cup standings.
WBR PR/Photo Robert Laberge/Getty Images