Paul Menard and the No. 21 Menards/Knauf Insulation Ford Mustang are set to start Saturday’s Monster Energy Open at Charlotte Motor Speedway from fifth place.
Menard earned that spot on Friday with a lap at 180.662 miles per hour in the second of two qualifying rounds. He was fourth fastest in the first with a lap at 180.361 mph.
Both of Menard’s qualifying laps were significantly faster than his best laps in practice. He was fifth fastest in the opening practice, for both Open and All-Star drivers, with a best lap of 178.
Menard and the Menards/Knauf team have four chances Saturday night to join the field for the 35th annual Monster Energy All-Star race. They can make the main event by winning one of the three Stages of the Open, or by a vote of fans, which closed at noon on Friday.
Eddie Wood said there will be a lot more at play than just pure speed in Saturday’s Open. Strategy will be at a premium, he said.
“Everybody is going to be gambling, trying to do something different than the driver in front of him,” he said. “With the stages being as short as they are (the first two at 20 laps and the finale at 10) it’s going to be all about track position.
“You’re going to need to get to the front as quickly as you can.
At least we’re starting fifth, which is pretty close.”
The Monster Energy Open is set to get the green flag just after 6 p.m. Saturday with TV coverage on FOX Sports 1.