Paul Menard does a burnout in the #27 car after winning the Brickyard 400. Image via NASCAR.Enlarge Photo
On Sunday afternoon, the 30-year-old Eau Claire, WI native received another label, one which all racers embrace: Sprint Cup race winner.
Not only did Menard finally capture his long awaited first career win after 167 career starts, he won it fair and square, holding off a hard-charging Jeff Gordon for the victory.
"We're winners in Sprint Cup. That's the big deal. To do it at Indy, even bigger deal," Menard said per AP Sports Writer Jenna Fryer's article. "I know what I'm capable of."
After years of relative obscurity in trying to do the right things and getting the opportunities to win in Cup racing, Menard has found his home at Richard Childress Racing.
It was an emotional win in more ways than one for the No. 27 Menards Chevy Impala team, as Paul's father, John, soaked in the win after nearly three decades of futility at The Brickyard.
Fielding entries for various Indianapolis 500 entries throughout the 1980s to the early 2000's, John said, "I've been waiting to kiss these bricks for such a long time. I'm ready!"
Menard led 21 of the 160 laps making up this year's 400-miler at Indy, holding off Gordon, who caught him but couldn't pass him in the end.
"We were talking about him coming here as a kid with his family I think from like, I don't know, late '80s or something all the way to 2000, some ridiculous thing thing where every year he was here for the 500," Gordon said. "Knowing what his dad has done here in IndyCars...I think he's in awe right now."
Placing third was 2011 Showtime Southern 500 winner Regan Smith, who probably could relate to Menard better than anybody else.
Continuing a trend in which first-time winners captured their Sprint Cup glory in NASCAR's crown jewel events, Smith said, "I just know what it means to Paul. I know how hard he's worked."
This season has been a relatively unpredictable one in terms of race winners at some of the circuit's prestigious venues, with Trevor Bayne winning the Daytona 500, Smith's Southern 500 triumph, David Regan's redemption in the 400 miler at Daytona, and now Menard's arrival at Indy.
In what was a relatively action-packed race, drivers took chances throughout the race to create passing opportunities, going three to five-wide in some instances in turn three to advance positions, especially during restarts.
Drivers could make their way through traffic, slicing through the field, almost bearing resemblance to racing in the late 1990's that placed emphasis on the racers, not just the engineering.
However, some of those maneuvers cost racers like Landon Cassill and Kasey Kahne, who both spun on lap 121 in turn three. Both drivers were able to continue, with Cassill placing 20th while Kahne salvaged an 18th place finish.
As for the race winner, it was not just his personal moment in the sun.
No more labels like "boy with the silver spoon," "daddy dearest," or "kid with the dollar bills." Paul Menard is a genuine NASCAR winner and perhaps a Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship contender.
Rounding out the top-10 finishers were Jamie McMurray, Matt Kenseth, Tony Stewart, Greg Biffle, Mark Martin, Brad Keselowski, and Kyle Busch.
[Associated Press via Yahoo! Sports]
The Menard team and family celebrate after winning the Brickyard 400. Image via NASCAR.Enlarge Photo