Paul Menard claimed his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win at none other than at the Brickyard 400. At the postrace press conference, he spoke about the significance of winning one of the biggest events in stock car racing.
PAUL MENARD: Man, I've been coming here for a long, long time, but not nearly as long as my dad. To be the first one after all those years of trying to win him a race at Indy, very special.
1989, I think was my first year here. Spent 14, 15 years in a row just hanging out in the infield being a fan. 2007, I got to race here. It was definitely the highlight of my career up until that point. Here we are in Victory Lane. It's unbelievable.
Q. A couple weeks ago you said if there was anywhere you could win, first‑time win aside, this was the place. Talk about your childhood here, what your father John accomplished, and why it was the right decision going to Childress.
PAUL MENARD: A lot of great drivers have driven for my dad – Johnny Rutherford, Herm Johnson was the guy that got everybody started in racing, back in the '70s. A lot of great drivers. He's had a lot of great friends through the years from Indy. One of them was Richard. Robby and Richard, you know, came up and met. I was in a meeting, we were at a little pizza shop or something in Eau Claire. They wanted to put an IndyCar program together. Kept in touch ever since.
The time was right in 2011 to pull the trigger and get it done. You can't thank Richard enough for kind of going out on a limb with me and allowing me to bring Slugger with. Slugger is a great friend, works as hard as anybody in this garage. He's won a Daytona 500 and now he's won at the Brickyard 400.
Q. Growing up here, being around from the time you were a kid, why did you chose to drive stock cars rather than IndyCars?
: That's pretty easy. Grew up in Wisconsin. There's no feeder series for IndyCars. You can't race IndyCars being in Wisconsin. There's a lot of short tracks, a lot of legends, late models. I did the go‑kart thing at 15, 16, and started racing legends cars. Hooked up with Bryan Reffner. Actually brought out Richard's truck team. He was selling his truck team. Brian came in to buy that. Let me drive his car. We won a heat race, finished fourth.
Got a late model, started racing that. At one point we were racing three or four nights a week. That's Wisconsin short-track racing.
Q. You get a lot of flack because of your sponsorship. Your crew chief, Slugger Labbe, said earlier, "That's not fair, he's not a kid with a silver spoon in his mouth, he wants to be good at this." Does this make that more gratifying to you?
: I mean, we're winners in Sprint Cup. That's the big deal. To do it at Indy, even bigger deal.
Can't change people's opinions. They're going to say what they want to say. That's fine with me. We'll celebrate this. We'll enjoy it. We're going to work hard for Pocono, try to make the Chase. Whatever they say, they say. Can't control it. I know what I'm capable of. I have total belief in Richard [Childress, car owner], Slugger and everybody. I think we can win a couple more.
Q. Over the final 10 laps. Slugger seemed to be the only one talking. You were totally silent. Crossing the finish line, everybody erupts in celebration. You're like, "That's the checkered, right?"
: I didn't see it. I was looking at my fuel pressure (laughter).
Q. We know you're quiet by nature. What does it take to excite you?
: That's probably about as much emotion as you'll see out of me. I've always been kind of a low‑key guy. Doesn't make it any less special. It's very special for me. It's just something that we work hard for, something that Richard expects us to win. He's won a lot of races. Just really gratifying that we could pull it through.
Q. Has anyone seen any kind of emotion from you?
: My dad has.
Q. How soon after the race did you find your dad? Do you remember the first thing you said to him? And how much fuel did you have left?
: I'm not sure about the fuel.
I saw my dad as soon as we pulled into Victory Lane. He came up to the window, said something like, 35 years of trying here, here we go, this one's for you. Definitely for him. He's been trying to put a lot of time and energy into winning at Indy. It's just a big deal.
Q. How confident were you in the last 10 or 15 laps that you had enough to make it to the end and that you were going to hold them off?
: As soon as the jack dropped, we took out of pit road, Slugger said, "Save me fuel, long gears." So under caution, had another lap, I think we were going green, caught up, killed the motor, coasting as much as possible. The restart, you got to go. Passed a couple of cars. Once I kind of got cycled out, just started trying to maintain some kind of lap time being easy on the throttle, easy off, earlier than normal, easy on.
Once it got really strung off, I mean, I was lifting at the 250 mark when normally you drive to the 1, just trying not to use any brake, but trying to use the tires to keep your roll speed fast. Probably about a 15‑lap, maybe 20‑lap run or span where I wasn't even wide open. Just get it up to like 8500 rpm. If I would see Mark catch me a little bit in my mirror, I would give it more. If I saw him back off, drop it back. Watching in the mirror, trying to maintain some kind of lap time and gap with the cars behind me.
Obviously we kept track – Slugger kept telling me where Jeff [Gordon] was, the 24. When he got to two, three seconds behind us, he said, Take off. The car was really good. Clean air is so important. We had it right there. The car is awesome in clean air.
We got behind early. Wasn't as good. But played strategy to a T.
Q. Paul, you really took a big step toward making the Chase today with that victory. Talk a little bit about that.
: Yeah, I think we're 14th now with the wild card. I mean, it's great. We got five or six races left. We got a lot of work to do. We have Richmond and New Hampshire – Richmond before the Chase starts. Those are two of our worst tracks honestly. We have a lot of work to do. We'll rely on our teammates a lot. They typically run well at the short tracks. Got to get that program figured out. We have a couple intermediate tracks, have a couple of those, looking forward to that. We have Atlanta for a million bucks.
Q. Also the fact that today was a perfect example of guys who were prepared to make bold moves. How much can we expect to see some other guys between now and Richmond making win‑or‑go‑home type of gambles to try to get in as a wild card?
: You're going to see it. Anytime fuel mileage comes into play, you'll see guys run out, probably guys going to win the race. The Sprint Cup Series is just so competitive, so hard to pass, everybody runs so close together, you got to gamble. Very rarely do you see a car just check out and win the race. A lot of strategy, a lot of clean air. You're going to see it happen the next few races.
Q. Jeff Gordon and Regan Smith got asked more about you than he got asked about their own performances. They were thrilled to talk about you. They both said you're a highly respected driver among drivers. I know it's an awesome day for you, but what does it mean that other drivers are genuinely happy for you today?
: I hope Regan would say that. I'm in his wedding (laughter).
But for Jeff to say that, we've had run‑ins on the track – everybody has. But for a guy of his caliber to say that, it means a lot. He came to Victory Lane, Regan came to Victory Lane. I didn't realize that Regan finished third. Really happy for him, too.
I watched Jeff win the inaugural Brickyard 400. To have him come down in Victory Lane after finishing second to us, very special. I've always gotten along great with Jeff, and Regan obviously.
Q. John, after more than three decades in racing, what did it mean to you to finally get Paul in a position with an organization where the money you had invested, and you invested in so many different disciplines throughout motorsports, but to see that money put to optimum use to give Paul the kind of opportunity he deserved to have?
: Well, first of all, a lot of investment we made in motorsports over the year has been good for our business. I think it's really a good form of advertising. I believe it's a good form of promotion. I think that motorsports promotions are underrated a lot by some of the people in advertising.
If you look at what you can buy a sponsorship for of a race team versus some golf or some of the ball‑and‑stick‑type sports, motorsports is a pretty good buy. From a business standpoint, I'd say that investing in motorsports is a fairly wise investment.
From investing in motorsports teams, there are some that give you a better return, let's say, for your investment than others. Richard's team gives a very, very good return because he takes the money and he puts it back into the cars, the people, the research, the engines, the things that you need to win.
If there's anybody in motorsports that knows how to do it, it's Richard [Childress]. I'm proud to be associated with him. I'm proud that Paul can do what he does. By God, guys, you've done a great job. Money well‑spent.
Q. Paul, when you were having the battle with Matt Kenseth for the lead, when he got around you, that looked pretty close to not only winning the race but maybe losing the racecar. How close a call was that?
: Yeah, I didn't hear him. My spotters say that Matt was inside me. Stevie is my primary spotter. He was on the backside of the pagoda. We had Jeff on the front side. I don't know if he didn't talk loud enough or what, but I had no idea that Matt was there.
I felt it kind of get loose. Looked at my side mirror, saw his nose was in there. Matt and I are great friends. Luckily he let me go. He could have laid in there a bit more. I had to check up and he passed us.
But, yeah, it was close. I heard the tires squealing. I had flashbacks from [Juan Pablo] Montoya last year with kind of the same situation.
Q. Paul, the fact there weren't too many cautions today, do you think that helped you?
: You know, I mean, again, our mileage has been really good. We run better on long runs. It seems like historically we've had great long‑run racecars. You know, today we just had a great racecar overall. But it comes down to track position. Restarts, so many things can happen. If you have a great racecar, you can get a fender tore up, we had a little bit of damage on pit road, nothing major. A lot of things like that happen with all those restarts.
I enjoy races that have long runs. You can analyze the car, relay information and work on the racecars.
Q. Paul, a lot is made of guys from Indiana – Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman – wanting to win the Brickyard. None of them put the time you did in the garage at this place. Do you think it means more to you because your family invested so much at winning in this place?
: Right on par with them. I'm not an Indiana native son, but Wisconsin is not far away and I spent a helluva lot of time here as a kid. I probably been here more days than probably all three of them combined, honestly. Special place for us.