Paul Menard made his first NASCAR Nationwide Series start of 2011 and his first start with Kevin Harvick Inc. (KHI) behind the wheel of the No. 33 Menards Chevrolet Impala in a Friday night showdown at Texas Motor Speedway. Menard put the No. 33 KHI machine in the fifth position for the start of the 200-lap race. As the 43-car field came to life, Menard engaged in a three-wide battle around the 1.5-mile track before settling into the sixth position.
With approximately 20 laps under his belt, the driver radioed to crew chief David Hyder that the No. 33 Chevrolet was fighting some front-end handling issues and was in need of some adjustments. Menard brought the car down pit road on lap 48 for a scheduled pit stop, taking four tires, fuel and a chassis adjustment in order to alleviate the handling issues.
Menard returned to the track and, in a matter of a few laps, relayed to his crew that the handling was much better. While running in the sixth position, the race came under caution for the first time at lap 68. Very pleased with the car, the KHI team opted to use the caution period to their advantage, bringing Menard down pit road for four tires, fuel and a small air-pressure adjustment to ensure the car continued to drive to Menard’s satisfaction.
With a solid stop by the No. 33 team, Menard took the lap 73 restart from the fourth position. As quickly as the field returned to green-flag racing, the driver jumped to the third position. The No. 33 continued to slide between third and fourth positions as the second yellow flag of the night flew at lap 88. Hyder made the call for a four-tire and fuel stop during the caution with a small chassis adjustment. At lap 94, green-flag racing resumed with the No. 33 in the ninth position.
As the race surged past the halfway mark, Menard was running solidly within the top-10, but relayed the No. 33 car was starting to have the same front-end handling issues it had in the beginning of the race. The night’s third caution came at lap 123, presenting the KHI team an opportunity to bring the vehicle to pit road for adjustments. Menard wheeled the No. 33 car to the attention of his crew for four tires, fuel and minor chassis adjustments. He took the lap 129 restart from the sixth position.
Back to green-flag racing, Menard went back to work, moving up through the field. With less than 70 laps to go, the driver had powered to the third position, and just laps later, made the move into second. The driver relayed back to his team that the car was a touch free but handling really well. Menard continued to fight towards the lead position, but when the checkered flag flew, he ended the night in third place.
The No. 33 KHI team maintains the third position in the NASCAR Nationwide Series Owner’s Point standings moving from 14 points out of first to one point from the top position. The series will hit the high banks of Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway next weekend for the Aaron’s 312 on Saturday, April 16. Tune in to ESPN2 at 3:00 p.m. EST and 2:30 p.m. on MRN as Clint Bowyer and the No. 33 Rheem Chevrolet team race for the win.