How could Paul Menard not be pumped Saturday after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 250 at Michigan International Speedway? Menard had a fast race car all weekend and found good luck at the end to win for the second time in 184 NASCAR Nationwide races.
Kyle Busch started on the pole after setting a record with a qualifying mark of 193.242 MPH, eclipsing the previous mark of 191.682 MPH established by Austin Dillon last year.
It appeared Joey Logano was on his way to victory nursing a lead with four laps remaining when he suffered a flat tire. That allowed Menard to take the lead, Sam Hornish Jr., from nearby Defiance, Ohio, to move up to second place and complete a somewhat remarkable comeback and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., also the victim of a flattening tire, to recover for a third-place finish.
“I was trying to run Joey down at the end and we were closing a little bit but we weren’t going to get him,” Menard said. “I thought the best car was going to finish second again. We had that happen to us a couple of times last year.
“I don‘t know what happened to Joey. I guess he had a flat tire and the best car won today. I hate to wish bad luck on Joey, but we’ll take it.”
The victory ended Menard’s 98-start Nationwide winless streak, dating back to June 24, 2006 (Milwaukee). Menard will start fifth in Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 at MIS, schedule to begin at 1 p.m.
Logano took the lead on lap 81 and appeared on the verge of victory when his tire expired.
“Once I got clean air I was able to pull away,” Logano said. “The 33 (Menard) was quick and had a fast race car also. We were going to have a race because he was catching me a little.
“I hate to give them away like that. You look at the silver lining. I guess we had a fast race car and should have won the race. You win some this way and you lose some this way.”
Earnhardt never led, but was running a strong second with 25 laps remaining in the 125-lap race when his left front tire started to lose air.
“We weren’t very good at the start of the race, maybe a fifth or eighth-place car, but we made some real good adjustments and on our last run I felt real good, but then we ran over something between turns three and four and it cut a hole in the left front tire,” Earnhardt said. “It was going flat there near the end.”
Hornish, competing in only his third Nationwide race this season for Joe Gibbs Racing, rallied from a spinout on only the second lap of the race to bring out the caution flag and send Hornish to the pits for quick repairs.
“The best thing for us was to be in heavy traffic toward the back and then we were able to work our way forward,” said Hornish. “We were running down the 22 (Logano) but we were running out of time. We (including Earnhardt) both gained an extra spot when Logano had to pit at the end. I’ve had the same thing happen to me before. You just have to take them the way you can get them.”
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Quicken Loans 400 race is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. Sunday.