Since 1994 the Brickyard 400 has stood apart as one of the premier events on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule. Winning on the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a dream for most racecar drivers. And on Sunday the track delivered twice giving Paul Menard not just a Brickyard 400 victory, but his first ever Cup Series win (the first ever, first-time winner at the Brickyard).
The last 50 laps of the 400 were some of the more interesting I’ve seen at the track. There were two packs, two ideas and it was really anybody’s race. Eventually it was the kid who spent much of his life around the track watching a different kind of racing, crossing the bricks first. It was hard not to be excited for Menard.
The extraordinary thing about Sunday’s finish was that Menard became the 14th different winner and the fourth different first-time winner of the season. Those aren’t record breaking numbers just yet (19 in 1956 and 2001), but it is, I think, a testament to strength of competition in the sport right now. In addition to those 14, there is a long list of drivers with the means to win who haven’t.
Menard’s win also adds him to the list of drivers competing for the Chase’s two wild card slots. There are currently six different winners outside of the top-10 in points (Denny Hamlin, Paul Menard, David Ragan, Brad Keselowski, Regan Smith and Trevor Bayne – who of course is not eligible for the Chase). Of those six, four are eligible and in the requisite top-20 in the points. Right now it’s Denny Hamlin and Paul Menard who make the cut.
So far, this season has been one to remember. With 16 races left and just six until the start of the Chase, I doubt we’ve seen the end to the 2011 surprises. Stay tuned.
Feel free to use this as your Brickyard and 2011 season sound off post. What did you think about Paul Menard’s first win? How about the parity we’ve seen so far this season? Do you think we can beat the record of 19 different winners? Talk amongst yourselves.