Paul Menard brought his No. 21 Ford Fusion home in ninth place Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, earning his second top-10 of the year.
It’s a new beginning of sorts for Menard as he joined Wood Brothers Racing this season after seven years with Richard Childress Racing. In only three starts with the new team, he has hit the ground running, finishing sixth in the season-opening Daytona 500 and capturing 11 stage points along the way. Although a 17th place at Atlanta was not the result they wanted, owner Len Wood characterized it as due more to circumstance than performance.
“The car was set up for hotter weather, and we were off a little on handling mid-race, but it got better as the race went on,” Wood said. “And the pit crew did a good job. They never had a bad stop and were better every time.”
With Sunday’s ninth-place finish, Menard is encouraged by how quickly the team is coming together.
“It’s a bit early but the Fords are fast coming out of the gate this year,” he said. “I think we’ll be good in Phoenix next week as well. I feel really good with where our program is at right now.”
Menard also received two additional stage points after finishing 10th in Stages 1 and 2 and is currently ninth in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series points standings.
“Earning stage points is big,” he acknowledged, “and you need to take advantage when you can. We did that today. It wasn’t much but it all counts.”
He is also encouraged by how effectively they were able to make adjustments and the quality of their pit stops at Las Vegas with crew chief Greg Erwin leading the way.
“Just a solid day for the Motorcraft Ford Fusion,” Menard said, “a great weekend for us. We unloaded fast on Friday and fell behind a bit on Saturday. We all got together last night and talked about what we needed to do and it worked out for us. A solid car all day.
“They (the pit crew) made great stops all day which helped me keep track position. We made some good adjustments and Greg (Erwin) called a great race. A good two weeks for the crew guys.”
The Cup Series heads to ISM Raceway (formerly Phoenix Raceway) next week where Menard has three top 10 finishes in 22 starts.
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