Paul Menard and the No. 21 Menards/Richmond Water Heaters team, like all the others on the Monster Energy Cup Series, have been thrown for a loop, so to speak, for this weekend’s race at Sonoma Raceway.
As part of the track’s 50th anniversary celebration, this weekend’s 350-kilometer race will see the “Carousel” added back. The Carousel turn, which begins at Turn Four and loops around before rejoining the course at the old Turn Seven, was part of the main course from 1968 through 1997, but hasn’t been used since.
Now it’s back, and will add about a half mile to the overall lap distance – from 1.99 miles to 2.52. Because of the added distance, the number of laps in the race will be reduced from 110 to 90.
Menard said the changes to the event won’t be just on the race track. He said the addition time needed to run the extra half mile – an estimated 25 seconds – will open up more pit strategy options.
“There will be more time to pit and not lose a lap,” he said, adding that there will be a learning curve for him and his fellow drivers. “I’ve never run the Carousel, but I have run it on the simulator. It’s a little confusing.”
Menard said he appreciates an occasional race in which he gets to turn both left and right. “I really enjoy road racing,” he said. “It breaks up the monotony of the ovals.”
Menard’s love of road racing can be traced to his childhood attending races at Road America.
“We used to go there to watch sports car races and Indy cars, and my dad raced there too in Showroom Stock cars,” he said. “I really enjoyed being there and getting to ride around on four-wheelers.”
Menard returned to Road America as a NASCAR driver and won a Midwest Series race in 2001 and the Xfinity Series race there in 2015. He also has road course wins in the Rolex Sports Car Series, with class victories at Fontana and Phoenix in 2002.
Qualifying at Sonoma is set for Saturday at 12:10 p.m. (3:10 p.m. Eastern Time) and the race is scheduled to start just after noon on Sunday (3 p.m. Eastern) with TV coverage on FOX Sports 1.