The good news for Paul Menard and the No. 21 Menards/Quaker State team on an otherwise disappointing night at Richmond Raceway was the team’s ability to fix an ill-handling car and turn it into a fast one.
The bad news is that due to the way the caution flags fell – or didn’t fall – the team wasn’t able to capitalize on the chassis changes dictated by crew chief Greg Erwin or his late-race tactics.
Menard did go from being three laps behind the leaders to just one, but an uncontrolled tire on the team’s final stop negated Erwin’s last move, and Menard wound up 24that the finish. The result dropped him from 16thin the Monster Energy Cup standings to 18thheading into next Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway.
Menard started Saturday night’s 400-lapper at Richmond from the 20thposition. The first two 100-lap Stages ran caution free, which limited Erwin’s chances to tune on the No. 21 Menards/Quaker State Fusion.
Menard managed to stay among the top 25 throughout the race, but fell to three laps behind the leaders.
When the race’s first caution flag for an on-track incident flew with 45 of the race’s scheduled 400 laps remaining, it created an opportunity for Erwin to execute some tactical moves, mostly taking the wave-around, which proved to be successful as Menard was able to hold his position and regain two lost laps despite riding on well-worn tires.
The final strategy call, in which Erwin brought Menard to pit road for fresh tires with 11 laps remaining, didn’t achieve the planned result due to the penalty for the uncontrolled tire, and Menard came home 24th, one lap down.
Team co-owner Eddie Wood said he was proud of the way Menard, Erwin and the No. 21 team kept working on the Menards/Quaker State Fusion even when a good finish seemed out of reach.
“The first half of the race we didn’t run that well,” Wood said. “The handling of the car was off. It was too tight.
“Then Greg took a big swing at it on a chassis adjustment and pretty much fixed the car.
“It was as fast as anyone after that; it was just too late to gain back everything we’d lost.”
Menard and the Wood Brothers team will be back on track at Talladega Superspeedway next weekend.
WBR PR/Photo Sarah Crabill/Getty Images