Paul Menard Joins List of First Time Sprint Cup Winners

Carl Edwards at Indy

Defending Ford 400 winner at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Carl Edwards, broke the splitter on the No. 99 Ford and finished 14th at Indianapolis. Edwards managed to retain the Championship points lead with six races left to determine the Chase field (photo courtesy: Jason Smith; GETTY IMAGES SPORT)

Paul Menard became NASCAR's newest first-time winner Sunday with his victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a track steeped in tradition for his family. The Richard Childress Racing driver started 15th and led four times for a total of 21 laps on the way to the checkered flag.

It is the third Brickyard victory for team owner Richard Childress who scored wins in 1995 with Dale Earnhardt, Sr. and 2003 with Kevin Harvick.

Pit strategy and a smooth throttle to conserve the needed fuel propelled the Wisconsin native to not only his career-first win, but at a track where his family has a storied history of 35 years of competition in open wheel racing. 

With the victory, Menard becomes the first driver eligible for the Sprint Summer Showdown $3 million payout. He moves to 14th in the NASCAR Championship standings and is in position for a wild-card berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. The Chase will consist of the Top 10 drivers in points plus the two drivers from 11th to 20th with the most wins. Tickets for this year’s Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are on sale NOW. For ticket information, click [HERE]or call (866) 409-RACE.

Four-time Sprint Cup Series champion and four-time Brickyard winner, Jeff Gordon, crossed the finish line in second place. Gordon remains seventh in the standings with two wins on the season with just six races remaining until the start of the Chase.

The first half of the race was dominated by drivers with the strongest cars. But when debris cautions jumbled up the pit cycles, the Brickyard 400 turned into a race of pure strategy.

Menard and his Richard Childress Racing team played it brilliantly, as crew chief Slugger Labbe had Menard give the lead up to defending race winner Jamie McMurray in an effort to save fuel. Certain McMurray didn't have enough gas to make it to the finish, Labbe then turned his attention to Gordon, who fell 12 seconds behind after a late fuel stop but was slicing his way through the field.

Labbe gave Menard the green light with just over three laps to go. He passed McMurray for the lead, and was silent as he circled the track with Labbe giving constant updates on Gordon's lap times. Gordon ran out of time, and Menard cruised to his first career victory in his 167th career start.

Menard's only other NASCAR victory came in the Nationwide Series in 2006.

Quiet and reserved by nature, that didn't change as Menard crossed the finish line. As his team screamed over the radio, Menard quietly asked, ''that's the checkered, right?''

Atop the pit box, his father was far less reserved.

''I've been waiting to kiss these bricks for such a long time. I'm ready!'' John Menard yelled.

John Menard, owner of the family's Midwest-based hardware chain who has a decades-long involvement in racing, was ecstatic and seemingly near tears. He fielded cars for years in the IndyCar Series.

''I've been coming here since I was a little kid, my dad tried to win this race for 35 years, so this is for my dad,'' Menard said. ''A lot of emotions right now. I went to every Indy 500 from 1989 to 2003, I was here for the inaugural Brickyard 400 in '94, for my family and for myself, Indianapolis is a very special place.''

Menard's victory Sunday continued the trend of first-time winners this season. Trevor Bayne won the Daytona 500, Regan Smith won at Darlington Raceway and David Ragan won the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona in July.

Two-time Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart led late but had to stop for gas, once drove for John Menard and was complimentary in defeat.

''I'm really happy for Paul Menard,'' he said. ''Paul's been around this place for a long time, been here since he was a kid. It couldn't have happened to a better guy. It's a pretty deserving win right there. I'm happy for him.''

For Menard, the win lifted him five spots in the standings to 14th, putting him in contention for a wild card into the 12-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. The final two spots in the field will go to drivers ranked 11th or lower who have the most victories. The two currently in position? Menard and Denny Hamlin, who is 11th in the points. There are six races left to determine those drivers eligible for the Chase For The Sprint Cup which will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 20. The Chase will consist of the Top 10 drivers in points plus the two drivers from 11th to 20th with the most wins. Tickets for this year’s Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are on sale NOW. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

Defending Ford 400 winner at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Carl Edwards broke a splitter and finished 14th at Indianapolis. Still, Edwards held onto the points lead. In truth, none of the points leaders had great finishes at Indy. Of the Top 5 in points, the best Brickyard finish belonged to Matt Kenseth, who was fifth. No one else was better than 10th. Edwards was a popular preseason pick to unseat five-time Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson this fall when NASCAR crowns a Champion at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 20. Tickets for this year’s Ford Championship Weekend—Nov. 18-20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway—are on sale NOW. For ticket information, click [HERE] or call (866) 409-RACE.

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