Paul Menard wrapped up one of the most-unusual trends by winning last Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway: three of the sport’s Big Four events were won by first-time winners.
Trevor Bayne won the season-opening Daytona 500 and Regan Smith won the Southern 500. The only veteran to win one of stock car’s majors was Kevin Harvick at the Coca-Cola 600 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.
So why are first-time winners so successful at the biggest races?
“Well, Daytona’s different,” Jeff Gordon said. “The type of drafting that you do, so I don’t know if you can necessarily, you got to kind of put that in its own category.
“But when Regan won at Darlington, I mean, that was a risky move that they made, kind of like what Paul did (at Indianapolis). But he drove the wheels off that thing to keep Carl behind him. So you got to give him a lot of credit.”
Smith won at Darlington by gaining track position by not changing tires on his final pit stop. Menard won last Sunday by skipping the final round of stops and stretching his fuel mileage an extra five laps.
Waltrip exploring a move to Grand-Am series
Michael Waltrip is thinking about expanding to the Grand-Am Road Racing Series next year.
The owner of two teams in the Sprint Cup Series drove in the 24 Hours of LeMans in June, and he loved the experience so much he’s thinking about driving sports cars full-time in Grand-Am.
“In order to make a decision, you have to have all the facts,” Waltrip said. “Rob Kauffman (co-owner) and I have been doing some Grand-Am racing, GT racing over in Europe, and we ran the 24 Hour of Le Mans in a Ferrari and Ferrari had talked about coming to Grand-Am in America and we wanted to make sure that if they did that –Rob’s really tight with the Ferrari team over in Italy – we wanted to see if it makes sense for us to try and be a part of that.
“We have not made a decision as to whether we will or will not compete in Grand-Am in 2012 or beyond. We still are evaluating all the facts. We definitely hope to be a part of the 24 Hours of Daytona next year in some form or fashion, but I’d say it’s 50-50 still whether we would actually own a team that would race in the series next year.”
Waltrip would continue a longstanding tradition of stock car drivers in sports cars. Jimmie Johnson has become a regular in the season-opening Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona. So have Juan Pablo Montoya, Jamie McMurray, A.J. Allmendinger, Paul Menard and Bobby Labonte.
Also, David Ragan and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will make their Grand-Am debut next week at Watkins Glen International.