KERRY THARP: Well go ahead and start. We have our team owner Richard Childress and crew chief Slugger Labbe. Winner of today’s 18th annual Brickyard 400 is Paul Menard.
Slugger, just talk about the ebb and flow of this race. A lot of strategy towards the end. Heck of a Brickyard today that we witnessed. Talk about getting that 27 car to Victory Lane here.
SLUGGER LABBE: It was a neat day for sure. We pitted on lap 35, pit road penalty. Tire changer didn’t get the tire back, fell down, penalized us. From this point on we really stretched our fuel. Went 34 laps then to stretch our fuel. Caution came out later. We were fortunate enough to stay out and understand what our car was going to do.
Saturday we made a 22-lap run in practice. Knew where we were going to be at with fuel mileage. We knew with 35 it was a gamble we were willing to take.
We had a good meeting on Monday, myself, Richie Gilmore and all the guys, and said, Look, guys, if we’re going to make the Chase, we’re going to have to get risky.
Seems to be a trend in the Cup Series, that people take gambles on pit road. It was our turn to get aggressive. I told Paul he had to support me. He supported me a hundred percent today. Three times he had an occasion where he could have said no, I don’t want to do that, but he did. Fortunately it worked out.
We left pit road running third. Got penalized, running 38th. That was a big emotion. Just to work our way through it and not lose our cool and to come up with a big plan and win the race is very fortunate.
KERRY THARP: Team owner, Richard Childress. Certainly a big win for your racing team and organization. Paul has moved up to 14th in points. With the win and the new wildcard berth, if we set the Chase field tonight, he would be in the Chase.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: I’m just so proud of that whole Menard team. I caught a lot of flack back early last year when we decided to go with four teams. I’ve been watching Paul ever since he won the Nationwide race. He doesn’t tear equipment up. He’s consistent. He’s really good. Got a cool head on him in all situations.
I knew if the right situation come along, we’d win. To get Slugger to come over, John Menard support us, get Slugger, a couple of the engineers, that was a big jump going in on a fourth team.
Couldn’t be prouder of everyone at RCR or ECR Engines. Ran great today. Got fuel mileage. Got chewed out last week for not getting fuel mileage. Got the fuel mileage today, proud of ‘em. Couldn’t be prouder for the Menard family. John has been here for many, many years.
I think we even had a car here one year at Indy. I think Robby drove it, if I’m not mistaken. For him to win, to win here at Indy, to win with his son, I couldn’t be prouder.
KERRY THARP: I might ask John Menard, I think these folks would like to hear from you, as well. Certainly you’ve done a lot for the sport. Your thoughts about the victory today.
JOHN MENARD: Well, I wonder where that kid of mine is. Probably still doing interviews. He took the money and ran, I think (laughter).
This is just great. I mean, it was Paul’s day. But in a way, our whole family has been at the Speedway for so long. We all tried very hard. Paul came down here as a very little guy. I remember smuggling him into the garage because he was too young to be in there. He would be sitting on the workbench back there behaving himself. He had to be quiet or the yellow shirts would throw him out. He was there, always interested (laughter).
He wanted to be a racecar driver. You know, I’m just a proud father right now. I just have kind of elapsed back to him, of thinking of him as my little boy, but he’s a full grown man, one I’m very, very proud of.
I can’t say how proud I am to be associated with Richard, with Slugger, with the whole Childress organization. I’ll tell you what, guys, you did this. It’s wonderful. I just thank you very, very much. I think this is a good win for the Speedway, for the town of Indianapolis. By God, I hope we’re back here next year sitting right here again.
KERRY THARP: While we’re waiting for Paul, we’ll take some questions.
Q. Richard, in the ’80s and ’90s, the guy sitting right next to you was trying to get an American-made engine to win the Indianapolis 500. How much did you follow what he tried to do?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: Well, I mean, he has put up a great, great effort to win here at Indy. I think, John, didn’t we have a car together one year with Robby?
JOHN MENARD: Run a little short of fuel, though (laughter).
RICHARD CHILDRESS: I’ve known John for many years, his family, the passion he has for the sport. To win today was just unbelievable for the Menard family. To have Paul pull it off, like you said, he was one of the young kids around watching, had a dream, and today his dream came true.
Q. John, all those years you invested into the Buick V6, won some poles, whatever happened, how satisfying is it to finally claim a win here?
JOHN MENARD: It’s really satisfying to have one that doesn’t blow up (laughter). We have to thank everybody at the engine shop for that. We worried about that here. It’s really satisfying to see Chevrolet, General Motors in the winner’s circle. You know the success we didn’t have with those. But, by God, we were fast.
KERRY THARP: Let’s hear from our race winner, Paul Menard. His first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win, at none other than at the Brickyard 400.
Paul, talk about the significance, your emotion of winning one of the biggest events in our sport.
PAUL MENARD: Man, I’ve been coming here for a long, long time, but not nearly as long as my dad. To be the first one after all those years of trying to win him a race at Indy, very special.
1989, I think was my first year here. Spent 14, 15 years in a row just hanging out in the infield being a fan. 2007, I got to race here. It was definitely the highlight of my career up until that point. Here we are in Victory Lane. It’s unbelievable.
KERRY THARP: Open it up for questions again.
Q. A couple weeks ago you said if there was anyplace you could win, first-time win aside, this was the place. Talk about your childhood here, what your dad accomplished, Tony’s championship, making the move with Slugger, why that was the right decision going to Childress.
PAUL MENARD: A lot of great drivers have driven for my dad, Johnny Rutherford, Herm Johnson was the guy that got everybody started in racing, back in the ’70s. A lot of great drivers. He’s had a lot of great friends through the years from Indy. One of them was Richard. Robby and Richard, you know, came up and met. I was in a meeting, we were at a little pizza shop or something in Eau Claire. They wanted to put an IndyCar program together. Kept in touch ever since.
The time was right in 2011 to pull the trigger and get it done. You can’t thank Richard enough for kind of going out on a limb with me and allowing me to bring Slugger with. Slugger is a great friend, works as hard as anybody in this garage. He’s won a Daytona 500 and now he’s won at the Brickyard 400.
Q. Paul, growing up here, being around from the time you were a kid, why did you chose to drive stockcars rather than IndyCars?
PAUL MENARD: That’s pretty easy. Grew up in Wisconsin. There’s no feeder series for IndyCars. You can’t race IndyCars being in Wisconsin. There’s a lot of short tracks, a lot of legends, late models. Go-kart thing. 15, 16, started racing legend’s cars. Hooked up with Bryan Reffner. Actually brought out Richard’s truck team. He was selling his truck team. Brian came in to buy that. Let me drive his car. We won a heat race, finished fourth.
Got a late model, started racing that. At one point we were racing three or four nights a week. That’s Wisconsin short track racing.
Q. Paul, you get a lot of flack because of your sponsorship. Slugger said earlier, That’s not fair, he’s not a kid with a silver spoon in his mouth, he wants to be good at this. Does this make that more gratifying to you?
PAUL MENARD: I mean, we’re winners in Sprint Cup. That’s the big deal. To do it at Indy, even bigger deal.
Can’t change people’s opinions. They’re going to say what they want to say. That’s fine with me. We’ll celebrate this. We’ll enjoy it. We’re going to work hard for Pocono, try to make the Chase.
Whatever they say, they say. Can’t control it. I know what I’m capable of. I have total belief in Richard, Slugger and everybody. I think we can win a couple more.
Q. I was fascinated to listen over the final 10 laps. Slugger seemed to be the only one talking. You were totally silent. Crossing the finish line, everybody erupts in celebration. You’re like, That’s the checkered, right?
PAUL MENARD: I didn’t see it. I was looking at my fuel pressure (laughter).
Q. We know you’re quiet by nature. What does it take to excite you?
PAUL MENARD: That’s probably about as much emotion as you’ll see out of me. I’ve always been kind of a low-key guy. Doesn’t make it any less special. It’s very special for me. It’s just something that we work hard for, something that Richard expects us to win. He’s won a lot of races. Just really gratifying that we could pull it through.
Q. Has anyone seen any kind of emotion from you?
PAUL MENARD: My dad has.
JOHN MENARD: I’ve got him mad a few times.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: He’ll get fired up on the radio occasionally.
PAUL MENARD: I think I yelled at you today, didn’t I (laughter)?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: Probably did.
Q. How soon after the race did you find your dad? Do you remember the first thing you said to him? How much fuel did you have left?
PAUL MENARD: I’m not sure about the fuel.
I saw my dad as soon as we pulled into Victory Lane. He came up to the window, said something like, 35 years of trying here, here we go, this one’s for you. Definitely for him. He’s been trying to put a lot of time and energy into winning at Indy. It’s just a big deal.
Q. Paul, how confident were you those last 10 or 20 laps that you were going to make it to the end and be able to hold everybody off? Also, you mentioned earlier at the end of the race that you were here for the inaugural Brickyard 400. What were you doing at that time?
PAUL MENARD: Sitting up in a suite at turn four for the inaugural one. Saw Rick Mast win the pole. I think I was here the whole weekend. The Skoal car won the pole. I think Harry Gant was second.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: I think we were second. I think we hit the wall coming off the corner trying to lead the first lap with Earnhardt.
Q. How confident were you in the last 10 or 15 laps that you had enough to make it to the end and that you were going to hold him off?
PAUL MENARD: As soon as the jack dropped, we took out of pit road, Slugger said, Save me fuel, long gears.
So under caution, had another lap, I think we were going green, caught up, killed the motor, coasting as much as possible. The restart, you got to go. Passed a couple of cars. Once I kind of got cycled out, just started trying to maintain some kind of lap time being easy on the throttle, easy off, earlier than normal, easy on.
Once it got really strung off, I mean, I was lifting at the 250 mark when normally you drive to the 1, just trying not to use any brake, but trying to use the tires to keep your roll speed fast. Probably about a 15-lap, maybe 20-lap run or span where I wasn’t even wide open. Just get it up to like 8500 rpm. If I would see Mark catch me a little bit in my mirror, I would give it more. If I saw him back off, drop it back. Watching in the mirror, trying to maintain some kind of lap time and gap with the cars behind me.
Obviously we kept track – Slugger kept telling me where Jeff was, the 24. When he got to two, three seconds behind us, he said, Take off. The car was really good. Clean air is so important. We had it right there. The car is awesome in clean air.
We got behind early. Wasn’t as good. But played strategy to a T.
Q. Paul, you really took a big step toward making the Chase today with that victory. Talk a little bit about that.
PAUL MENARD: Yeah, I think we’re 14th now with the wildcard.
Yeah, I mean, it’s great. We got five or six races left. We got a lot of work to do. We have Richmond and New Hampshire – Richmond before the Chase starts. Those are two of our worst tracks honestly. We have a lot of work to do. We’ll rely on our teammates a lot. They typically run well at the short tracks. Got to get that program figured out. We have a couple intermediate tracks, have a couple of those, looking forward to that. We have Atlanta for a million bucks.
KERRY THARP: You’re eligible for the Sprint Summer Showdown and also the 2012 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race.
PAUL MENARD: That’s right. Forgot about that.
Q. Also the fact that today was a perfect example of guys who were prepared to make bold moves. Slugger might want to answer also. How much can we expect to see some other guys between now and Richmond making win-or-go-home type of gambles to try to get in as a wildcard?
PAUL MENARD: You’re going to see it. Anytime fuel mileage comes into play, you’ll see guys run out, probably guys going to win the race. The Sprint Cup Series is just so competitive, so hard to pass, everybody runs so close together, you got to gamble. Very rarely do you see a car just check out and win the race. A lot of strategy, a lot of clean air. You’re going to see it happen the next few races.
SLUGGER LABBE: For us, I mean, I think we still got to be pushing. We’re 14th in points with a win. That doesn’t guarantee you a thing. There’s a lot of things that could happen. Ryan Newman is currently in the top 10. Could fall out, take a spot away from us. We have to keep pushing, be aggressive, make it that way, not rely on this victory today.
Q. Slugger, you’ve been really high on this team all year. I know you wouldn’t trade your first win being the Brickyard. Are you surprised it took this long?
SLUGGER LABBE: Well, we had big shoes to fill. When we started the Monday after Homestead, we didn’t have a truck, trailers, racecars, nothing. To be a first-year team and win a race is just short of amazing to me. We had great people at RCR. Nobody bellyached. They opened their arms, receptive people. Don’t tell Richard, but this is our 15th new car this year.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: I see it in the financials.
SLUGGER LABBE: They didn’t give us hand-me-downs. Richard let us hire the people we needed. Got a great pit crew. He let us do our job. We run the race teams like we own them, manage our money, try to make sure we don’t waste money. But we take what we need to be successful, and today was living proof of that.
Q. Richard, what do you make of first-time winners in the races this year?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: I think it just shows how competitive this sport is. This car is so equal, you got to have the right people, the right driver. Everything has to come together to win in today’s sport. You’re not going to see anybody just take off and run away with it.
Today you saw Jimmie Johnson sitting there running second for quite a while, then gets back in traffic, it’s hard to go. Like Slugger says, Paul can tell you, track position is everything.
Q. Paul, in this room about 45 minutes ago Regan and Jeff got asked more about you than they got asked about their own performances. They were thrilled to talk about you. They both said you’re a highly respected driver among drivers. I know it’s an awesome day for you, but what does it mean that other drivers are genuinely happy for you today?
PAUL MENARD: I hope Regan would say that. I’m in his wedding (laughter).
But for Jeff to say that, we’ve had run-ins on the track, everybody has. But for a guy of his caliber to say that, it means a lot. He came to Victory Lane, Regan came to Victory Lane. I didn’t realize that Regan finished third. Really happy for him, too.
I watched Jeff win the inaugural Brickyard 400. To have him come down in Victory Lane after finishing second to us, very special. I’ve always gotten along great with Jeff, and Regan obviously.
Q. John, after more than three decades in racing, what did it mean to you to finally get Paul in a position with an organization where the money you had invested, and you invested in so many different disciplines throughout motorsports, but to see that money put to optimum use to give Paul the kind of opportunity he deserved to have?
JOHN MENARD: Well, first of all, a lot of investment we made in motorsports over the year has been good for our business. I think it’s really a good form of advertising. I believe it’s a good form of promotion. I think that motorsports promotions are underrated a lot by some of the people in advertising.
If you look at what you can buy a sponsorship for of a race team versus some golf or some of the ball-and-stick-type sports, motorsports is a pretty good buy. From a business standpoint, I’d say that investing in motorsports is a fairly wise investment.
From investing in motorsports teams, there are some that give you a better return, let’s say, for your investment than others. Richard’s team gives a very, very good return because he takes the money and he puts it back into the cars, the people, the research, the engines, the things that you need to win.
If there’s anybody in motorsports that knows how to do it, it’s Richard. I’m proud to be associated with him. I’m proud that Paul can do what he does. By God, guys, you’ve done a great job. Money well-spent.
Q. Richard, you were in Victory Lane three times. Talk about being a three-time winner, how important it is for you to win this race.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: David told me earlier it’s eight years from 2005 to 2003 [sic], and eight more years till today. It doesn’t seem like we’ve been coming here 18 years. I remember coming in here the first time I think in ‘93 to do our test with Dale. The first time the cars ran down that front straightaway, thought, Man, would it be cool to win at Indy.
To be here again 18 years later and win, to win with Paul, Slugger, this whole group, to win for RCR, I couldn’t be happier. Kind of got to pinch myself.
I hope it ain’t eight years more before we win it. I’ll be an old man by then.
Q. Paul, when you were having the battle with Kenseth for the lead, when he got around you, that looked pretty close to not only winning the race but maybe losing the racecar. How close a call was that?
PAUL MENARD: Yeah, I didn’t hear him. My spotters say that Matt was inside me. Stevie is my primary spotter. He was on the backside of the pagoda. We had Jeff on the front side. I don’t know if he didn’t talk loud enough or what, but I had no idea that Matt was there.
I felt it kind of get loose. Looked at my side mirror, saw his nose was in there. Matt and I are great friends. Luckily he let me go. He could have laid in there a bit more. I had to check up and he passed us.
But, yeah, it was close. I heard the tires squealing. I had flashbacks from Montoya last year with kind of the same situation.
Q. Paul, the fact there weren’t too many cautions today, do you think that helped you?
PAUL MENARD: You know, I mean, again, our mileage has been really good. We run better on long runs. It seems like historically we’ve had great long-run racecars. You know, today we just had a great racecar overall. But it comes down to track position. Restarts, so many things can happen. If you have a great racecar, you can get a fender tore up, we had a little bit of damage on pit road, nothing major. A lot of things like that happen with all those restarts.
I enjoy races that have long runs. You can analyze the car, relay information and work on the racecars.
Q. Richard, you’ve done the four-team deal now. How gratifying is it to see these guys make it to Victory Lane?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: For a first-year team to come out like this, it’s very gratifying. They work hard. I mean, Slugger is as hard a working guy as you’ll see around the shop, the racetrack. The first time with the four-car team, I don’t think we were as prepared coming in. I said we’ll be more prepared, we know the mistakes we made, and we’re sure not making them now.
And Jeff, don’t call it luck, whatever you want to call it, it and because of a fourth team, I can’t figure it out. We’re working very, very hard.
PAUL MENARD: He was probably the best RCR car most of the day today.
RICHARD CHILDRESS: Then the ignition went out. I keep telling him, it will turn as fast one way as it does in the other in this sport. I’ve been on many ends of the stick I haven’t been on.
Q. You said back in 1994 you were sitting up watching Jeff win. What were your thoughts when 17 years later you’re told over the radio that, Here comes Jeff Gordon after you?
PAUL MENARD: Is he a three- or four-time winner?
PAUL MENARD: He’s trying for five and nobody’s done that before.
Yeah, he was fast all day long. Front straightaway is obviously really long. You can look at the pylon, see where everybody is at. You saw him up front a lot of the day. He had a solid racecar.
But, again, it comes down to clean air. Him catching us would have been one thing, but him passing us would have been another thing because we had a really strong racecar.
Again, to beat Jeff Gordon at Indy, big deal.
Q. Richard, if I asked you this morning which of your four race teams was going to win this race, what would you have said?
RICHARD CHILDRESS: You know, I thought all of our cars was really good. I told Paul before the race, I went over and I leaned in the car, I said, This will be your day, good luck.
I think one of the things, the reason I knew his car was really good, all of them were good, Jeff was really good, but they did a 20-lap run, and he ended up at a 51.65 and kept hitting the 65, 65. When you could do that, and he was really strong in traffic, when I went and talked to him, he said, A little loose, but we can really pass. That’s what you really want here. Although it’s really hard, the car looked good Saturday.
Q. Paul, a lot is made of guys from Indiana – Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Ryan