Paul Menard and the No. 21 Menards/Richmond team had a long, hard day on the road at Sonoma Raceway on Sunday, finally coming away with a disappointing 26th-place finish.
Menard started the 110-lap race from the 15th position, and the team planned a strategy that had them stopping just prior to the end of the first two Stages. The pit strategy moves were intended to allow the Menards/Richmond team to gain track position once the drivers ahead of them made pit stops during the caution periods following the end of the Stages.
The strategy worked as Menard moved to 11th place for the start of the second 25-lap Stage. It was successful again after the second Stage, and he restarted ninth for the final segment of the race.
But that strategy didn’t work out as planned in a final segment that ran caution-free from Lap 55 until the end of the race.
Team co-owner Eddie Wood said the Menards/Richmond team planned to make two stops in the final segment, but when no caution flags flew the strategy unraveled into a “darned if you do stop and darned if you don’t stop” scenario.
“It got to a point that if we did stop, we’d lose a lap, and if we kept going on old tires we’d lose a lap anyway,” Wood said. “The way the race played out put us in a box, and there wasn’t anything we could do about it but keep going.”
“You’ve got to hand it to Paul, he did a great job out there on old tires. It’s a job just to keep the car on the asphalt in a situation like that.”
Menard wound up a lap down in 26th place, and the finish dropped him one spot in the standings to 17th place, eight points out of 16th and 25 points out of 15th place and the final spot in the playoff line-up.
“We had four good races coming into Sonoma,” Wood said of the team’s four top-15 finishes including two top-sixes in the four Cup Series stops leading up to Sonoma. “We’ll move on to Chicagoland and try to pick up where we left off at Michigan.”