Indianapolis still looms large for Childress
July 22, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
The event may have aged, but it hasn’t lost any of its luster, according to team owner Richard Childress.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams will head to Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week for the 20th running of the annual event -- this one tabbed the Crown Royal presents the Samuel Deeds 400 at the Brickyard powered by BigRedMachines.com. While the initial hoopla and pageantry may have waned somewhat in the two decades since it debuted, the race at the Brickyard remains a big prize in the eyes of those inside the sport.
It is still a signature event, Childress said Tuesday.
“If you want to win a race, you want to win the Daytona 500, you want to win the Coke 600 (at Charlotte Motor Speedway), and Indy -- the Brickyard 400,” Childress said. “Those are the three, in my opinion, of the biggest crowns you can win.”
Each was special in its own way, Childress said, but it was the victory by Menard, a first for the Wisconsin native, that stands out.
Menard led four times for 21 laps, including the final four, to score his first victory in the Cup series.
“What made that so special,” Childress said, “was knowing that Paul’s family was there. Knowing what John Menard had put into that (track). I think he had entered like 30-some cars over 20 years at Indy, in the Indy 500. To be a part of watching his son win that race was such a special day.”
John Menard, Paul’s father and owner of the Menard’s hardware chain, spent decades funneling time, resources and finances into open-wheel efforts in an attempt to win the Indianapolis 500. Tony Stewart, Eddie Cheever, Robby Gordon, Arie Luyendyk, Tom Sneva and Al Unser sported the familiar yellow colors of the Menard’s chain through the years at Indy.
It was his son, in a stock car, that finally delivered the checkered flag.
“Not taking anything away from Dale or Kevin’s first wins there, but that one was so special, I think, because of being able to win a race with Paul, being able to win at Indy where that whole family had put so much into the … speedway,” Childress said.
“John Menard played a huge role (in Indy) for many years. To be able to win that race with him, have his whole family there that day, it was almost like a storybook ending to a great venture.”
Harvick, Menard and Jeff Burton will lead the RCR effort into Indy. Harvick sits fourth in the points standings, with wins at Richmond and Charlotte earlier this season and a spot in the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup seemingly secure.
After being a mainstay in the top 10 earlier this year, Menard, who hasn’t won since his 2011 Indy victory, has fallen 11 spots, to 20th.
Burton, meanwhile, jumped four spots, from 21st to 17th, with a third-place finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway when Cup teams were last in action. A 21-time winner in Cup, Burton is winless in his last 168 starts.
“I think Paul … he was in a position to win a couple of races so far,” Childress said. “Jeff ran his best race last week at New Hampshire. Hopefully things are starting to click with him and Luke (Lambert, crew chief). He’s had some good runs.”
In spite of the dry spell for two of his three drivers, Childress said, “you never give up. Every time you pull into that race track … we feel we’ve got what it takes to win.”