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.