June 14, 2014 at 8:54 pm

Paul Menard takes Nationwide race at MIS

Brooklyn — Paul Menard took advantage of Joey Logano’s flat tire with four laps remaining and went on to win the Ollie’s Bargain Outlet 250 Nationwide race Saturday afternoon at Michigan International Speedway.

Logano and Elliott Sadler were running 1-2 with 25 laps remaining when Sadler’s No. 11 Toyota had to enter the pits to get debris removed from his grille.

Then Logano suffered his flat tire after leading 40 straight laps, opening the door for Menard to take over the top spot. Menard went on to win for the first time since Milwaukee in June 2006, ending a 98-race winless streak in the series. It was his first start in the series this season.

“It feels good to be back in Victory Lane,” said Menard, who was one of seven full-time Sprint Cup drivers in the field who will also compete in the Quicken Loans 400 at MIS on Sunday. “This is a brand-new car, a brand-new motor that I had never tried before, and I think it proved itself.

“I guess he (Logano) got a flat tire and that’s how we won the race. I hate to wish bad luck on Joey, but we’ll take it. I was trying to run him down and we were catching him a little bit.”

Sam Hornish Jr. finished second, followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Brian Scott.

Menard set a track record for the series at MIS in Round 2 of knockout qualifying (193.138) earlier in the day, later shattered by Busch, who won the pole with a lap of 193.242 mph.

It was the first time Hornish has competed since winning the Nationwide race in Iowa on May 18.

“I just feel like the opportunities that I’ve been given, I’m really blessed to have those,” said Hornish, a former Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar series champion in 2006 for Roger Penske, later competing for Penske in Sprint Cup as well. “It’s not really a knocking off the rust thing because I’m at the shop every week talking to Kevin (Kidd, No. 20 crew chief) or Adam Stevens (No. 54 crew chief). They’ve given me good cars, and everybody at Joe Gibbs have been super nice to me.”

Hornish showed his ability when he battled back from 39th after he got loose and spun coming out of Turn 3 on the second lap. He said he would love to have another full-time ride in Nationwide or Sprint Cup, but only with a competitive team.

“I enjoy my time with my wife and family, and if I’m away from them I want the opportunity to win a race, then I feel it’s productive,” Hornish said. “My overall goal is to be full-time in something I can win in, either Nationwide or Cup. I don’t necessarily need to have “driver” beside my name. I just want to have the opportunity when I do go out there to win races.”

Logano, who settled for 16th, was dejected after the race, saying: “We had a fast race car. Once I finally got clean air we were able to pull away. The 33 (Menard) was quick and had a fast car also. We were going to have a race because he was catching me a little bit.

“I ran over something and I could tell it was going down the back straightaway. I hate to give it away like that.”

It was the third straight race a Sprint Cup full-time driver won in Nationwide with Kyle Larson winning at Charlotte (May 24) and Busch at Dover (May 31).

Larson finished eighth after leading 46 laps.

Chase Elliott is the new young gun in Nationwide at age 18. He entered the day third in points with a pair of wins in his first year in the series while driving for JR Motorsports and Earnhardt, his car owner.

Elliott finished sixth after leading six laps and narrowed his deficit to 20 points behind leader Regan Smith and six behind Sadler, who finished 17th.

“This is a really fun race track, especially with the Nationwide series with the amount of horsepower they have and as long as the straightaways are, it seems like it’s a good balance of being able to draft, but still have to have a good car to get through the corners and you can get big runs on people,” Elliott said.

“Really, the groove widened out more to the bottom of the race track than I thought it was today, so our car worked pretty well on the bottom. I felt like when we were racing with Kyle (Busch) out front, it was a good show. It was a lot of fun for me.”

Elliott had just finished with eighth grade four years ago when he battled Busch at the half-mile oval at Berlin Raceway near Grand Rapids, finishing second to him in the 250-lap event in his first run at the track.

It was Chase’s first time on the 2-mile superspeedway at MIS, the track where his father Bill Elliott dominated from 1984-89, winning seven Sprint Cup races in an 11-race stretch.

It was an exciting race from the start when Busch took the high side, Elliott, the inside, then Ty Dillon slipped even lower on the track into Turn 2 on the opening lap with Dillon taking the lead, followed by Menard, Logano, Elliott and Busch as the first lap concluded.

Then there was more excitement with Hornish getting loose on Lap 2 to send out the first caution.

Hornish regrouped, but still wished he could have held off Menard on the final restart.

“We were able to work our way back up there," Hornish said. “We had a good restart at the end, but couldn’t hold the 33 (Menard) car off. When Joey had his issue at the end I thought, ‘Man I wish I could have held the 33 off.”

Menard’s car owner, Richard Childress, was thrilled with the win. His team is still looking for its first Sprint Cup victory of the season.

“Jim Campbell (Chevrolet racing executive) just called me from Le Mans to congratulate us,” Childress said. “To win here is always special. Paul’s got a great car for tomorrow. I feel we’re gaining every week (in Sprint Cup).”

Driver Paul Menard celebrates the end of a 98-race winless streak in the Nationwide series after winning the Ollie's Bargain Outlet 250 at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Mich., on Saturday. / Carlos Osorio / Associated Press