Paul Menard and the No. 21 Menard/Knauf team made a significant jump in speed from practice to qualifying for the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Friday, going from 29th fastest in practice to qualifying 14th for Sunday’s race.
In between, they nearly made it to the third and final round of qualifying, but came a hundredth of a second shy of advancing to the final round after posting the seventh best time in the opening round with a lap at 189.347 miles per hour.
In Round Two, Menard toured Charlotte at a speed of 188.805 mph, which just missed putting him among the elite 12 that ran the final round.
“It was close,” Menard said. “The last two rounds we just got a little tight in [Turns] Three and Four.”
He went on to say that he was pleased with the way the day progressed for the Menards/Knauf team.
“Overall, we made a huge gain,” he said. “We tried something in practice trying to go down a little bit different path and it wasn’t any good, so we made a lot of changes before qualifying and picked up six tenths of a second [per lap].
“I’m really proud of my guys for that.”
Menard said the team’s goal for Saturday’s practice sessions is to get the No. 21 Fusion tuned for the expected track conditions as the 600-mile race run into the night on Saturday.
“They’ve put that VHT [traction compound] on the track, so we’ll have to run in that quite a bit and get a feel for whether that’s going to stick around or go away,” he said. “We’ll definitely have to run the bottom too, especially at night when the track cools off.
“We’ll play around with lines and see what the car does in different scenarios.”
Menard’s starting spot for the Coca-Cola 600 is his seventh of 14th or better in the 13 qualifying sessions so far this season.
The 600 is scheduled to start just after 6 p.m. on Sunday with TV coverage on FOX.