ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (AP) — Paul Menard has cherished wins at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Milwaukee Mile in his home state of Wisconsin. He deeply desired a significant victory at Road America, the track where he spent many weekends as a child.
Menard got his wish Saturday, taking advantage of a lengthy late-race caution and then holding off Ryan Blaney to win the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at the rural road course.
“This is a track that I’ve spent a lot of time at as a kid riding around on ATVs, finding these little trails,” Menard said. “Indy, Milwaukee and Road America are the three tracks that are really close to me and now I’ve been able to win at all three. I’m a pretty lucky guy.”
Menard, a Sprint Cup regular, made a mid-race pit stop and was informed by his crew that he needed to save two gallons of fuel in order to finish the race without stopping again on the 4.048-mile road course.
“These road races are hard to win and a lot of strategy goes into it,” said Menard’s crew chief, Danny Stockman Jr. “We didn’t have the best car. We had a fourth or fifth place car, I felt like. But we had this on our calendar that we wanted to win and you have to take risks. Paul did an excellent job. We had another lap of fuel in the car.”
Menard led for nine laps in the 180-mile race on NASCAR’s second-tier series.
Brian Scott was third. Series points leaders Chris Buescher finished ninth. Buescher holds a 16-point lead over Chase Elliott and a 19-point margin on Ty Dillon in the season standings.
Menard, from Eau Claire, took the lead immediately after a restart with four laps remaining, which followed a six-lap caution period.
“I was saving fuel. Caution laps were our friends,” Menard said.
Blaney and Menard separated themselves from the pack with two laps to go.
“We had a good car all day. We had a shot at the end,” Blaney said. “We just didn’t get quite close enough to Paul to make a move.”
In the race’s waning moments, Blaney pulled his car up to the bumper of Menard’s hoping to gain an advantage.
Menard wondered briefly whether Blaney would attempt to shove his car aside in an attempt to pass.
“The thought crossed my mind, but he’s not going to burn any bridges where he doesn’t have to,” Menard said. “He was bumping me for sure. For him to have moved me would have been kind of a Hail Mary and he knows that would have come back to bite him in some capacity in the future. He came up to me in victory lane and I told him thank you for racing me clean.”
Pole-sitter Ben Rhodes slid off the course with 10 laps to go and became deeply buried in a gravel pit. He finished 32nd.
Blake Koch held the lead as the late caution flag came out.
Koch led for five laps after leading for just three laps in his entire racing career. But during the caution, Koch’s car stalled with about five laps to go and wouldn’t restart on the course, ruining his attempt at a first career win and allowing Menard to move up.
Chase Elliott grabbed the lead on the very first lap and remained in front for much of the early part of the race. Elliott pushed the pace in a dominating performance early on, leading for 22 of the first 25 laps.
Scott used an aggressive pass to grab the lead from Elliott with 18 laps remaining. Elliott immediately fell back to third and dropped deeper into the pack after briefly driving off the course. He fought back to finish fourth.
A moment of silence was held for Justin Wilson prior to the start of the race. Wilson died Monday, a day after he was stuck in the head by debris in the IndyCar race at Pocono Raceway. Many drivers at Road America placed decals on their cars in memory of Wilson.