BROOKLYN, Mich. — Surprise gifts don’t get much better than this.
Paul Menard won Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide series Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 250 at Michigan International Speedway after leader Joey Logano was forced to pit four laps from the finish with a cut tire.
“Hate to wish bad luck on Joey,” Menard said in victory lane, “but we’ll take it.”
Menard led 18 laps and won the only series race he’s entered this season and claimed the second Nationwide victory of his career. His first came at Milwaukee, his hometown track, in June 2006.
Logano was in front after the leaders pitted with 44 laps to go and pulled away after the restart. He led Menard’s Chevy by more than a second late but pulled onto pit road on Lap 121 to replace a right rear tire. Menard had smooth sailing from there and led Sam Hornish Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Brian Scott to the checkered flag.
Menard thought he missed his shot on the final restart, when he was the third car into Turn 1 and lost several positions trying to take the lead.
“The last restart, I kind of thought I gave the race away getting three-wide,” he said. “This is a brand new car, a brand new motor we’re trying out and it proved itself, I think.”
Logano, seeking his 22nd Nationwide series win, was the final car on the lead lap and ended the day a hard-luck 16th.
“I ran over something at some point. It pretty much sucks,” he said after leading 43 laps. “I could tell it was going down on the back straightaway and had to take it in.
“I hate giving it away like that. The silver lining is we had a fast racecar and should’ve won the race. You win some like that, you lose some like that.”
Earnhardt also said he was losing a tire near the finish but kept the car on the track.
Dylan Kwasniewski and Trevor Bayne crashed between Turns 1 and 2 after contact on Lap 79 and the ensuing caution left front runners free to pit and take on enough fuel to finish the race. The caution lasted 10 laps and made fuel economy a non-issue as the pack dashed to the finish.
Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott were strong in the early two thirds of the race but were forced farther behind the lead pack after they opted to pit later in the final caution period. Elliott, the top rookie in the series points standings, ended the day sixth, two spots ahead of Larson, who led a race-best 46 laps.
“I felt really solid about our car all day,” said Elliott, who remained third in the standings with the finish. “We put ourselves in a tight box and didn’t have much of a choice (after following Larson into the pits instead the rest of the leaders).”
Regan Smith was seventh and ended the race with a 14-point lead over Elliott Sadler in the series standings.
The race lost 22 laps during four caution periods, the longest of which was for Kwasniewski’s crash. He was treated and released from the MIS medical center and took the blame for the incident after leaving there.
The day’s first yellow flag came less than two laps in after Hornish spun in Turn 4 but managed to avoid making contact with other drivers.
“We wanted to get (sponsor) Sun Energy 1 a lot of exposure so we started with some slow-motion replays,” he cracked. “I got really lucky (no one hit me).”
He’s finished fifth, first and second in the three series races he’s entered this season. He said he’ll keep trying to put himself into part-time rides the rest of the season.
Busch set a new qualifying record of 193.242 mph Saturday morning to earn the Coors Light Pole award, his third of the season.
The series heads to Road America at Elkhart Lake, Wisc., next weekend. Saturday’s race kicked off a stretch of 18 straight weekends for Nationwide teams, who won’t get a break until they complete the Oct. 10 race at Charlotte.