News From Terre Haute, Indiana

August 3, 2011

TRACKSIDE: Menard's victory at Brickyard momentous for family, race fans

Joe Buckles
Tribune-Star Correspondent

TERRE HAUTE — Who says one of those familiar bright fluorescent-colored Menards race cars can’t find its way to victory lane at Indianapolis?

Paul Menard’s well-executed and popular win Sunday at the Brickyard couldn’t have come at a better time for the 400 or on the strength of a more deserving effort.

Menard’s stunning win will never rank up there with those of Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt or Tony Stewart but it will rate among the most popular with the fans.

Since his arrival on the national racing scene, the 30-year-old Menard has had to deal with a maligned rich-boy image, something that is hard to shake at any level of racing but even more so among a working-class NASCAR fan base.

While it was nice to see Menard revel in his 400 win, among long-time Speedway fans it was even more rewarding to see his father John in victory lane at Indianapolis.

After a countless number of years, man hours and dollars spent trying to win at the Speedway during the month of May, it is rather ironic that John Menard’s first win came in August with a stock car.

Such are the unpredictable and storybook ways of big-league auto racing at Indianapolis.

The younger Menard’s win might be labeled as an upset by some, but those who have followed his career in recent years know the Wisconsin driver has elevated his driving talents.

He is now a legitimate contender to win in the Sprint Cup series.

His move to the highly successful Richard Childress operation over the winter turned his fortunes from also ran to frontrunner status almost out the blocks starting back at Daytona.

The way Menard mastered those pressure-packed closing laps signals that he has indeed earned the right to be called Sprint Cup winner.

The popular win and nail-biting finish couldn’t have come at better time for Speedway officials who worked feverishly to help breathe new life in the sagging fortunes of the 400.

The event still has a way to go to shake its follow-the-leader reputation, but days like last Sunday will keep the fans coming back. After all it is Indy.

• Looking ahead — Now that the Brickyard and surrounding events are in the record books it’s time to look forward and speculate on what lies ahead for Brickyard weekend in 2012.

IMS officials have already announced plans for Super Weekend 2012  featuring the 400, Nationwide series and Grand-Am Road Racing next July.

Sounds great for the Speedway but where does this leave the folks over at Lucas Oil Raceway?

With their critical comments, several high-profile NASCAR car owners did little to diffuse the frustrations or offer any measure of consolation for the those disappointed with the changes.

Several openly welcomed the changes citing how they and their sponsors would benefit from the moves. Little if any of the concerns or wishes of LOR fans ever addressed.

It’s painfully obvious that a weekend of USAC midgets, Silver Crown and ARCA stock car racing will not be close to filling the void left with the departure of the NASCAR Camping World Truck and Nationwide stock events.

Soon after the announcement that NASCAR was moving the Nationwide race to the Speedway and that the trucks would not appear at LOR in 2012 track general manager Wes Collier conceded that the Nite Before the 500 would now be the oval’s main event.

Good news for the midgets but not exactly a vote of confidence for the future of oval-track racing at the 5/8-mile paved oval.

On the plus side, comes the announcement that sports cars would be returning to IMS. That’s welcome news down the road for area road racing buffs who must now travel considerable distance to view their favorite form of racing.

Joe Buckles can be reached at