Best of the Brickyard, No. 5: Family affair for Menard

Throughout this week, will count down the five best Brickyard 400s of all time. For number five, we start with Paul Menard's dramatic win in 2011.

Paul Menard (C), his father John Menard Jr. (R) and team owner Richard Childress (L) pose with the trophy on the bricks after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 31, 2011 in Indianapolis, Ind.

Tom Pennington / Getty Images North America

Editor's Note: Throughout this week, will count down the five best Brickyard 400s of all time.

Most everywhere you go at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you can feel the history -- some would say feel the ghosts -- that dates all the way back to the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911.

Without question, IMS is a place with such a strong and deep history that winning here is an exceptionally emotional experience for any driver. Jeff Gordon, a four-time Brickyard 400 winner will tell you so. Back in the days when he was reviled throughout the Deep South for winning too often and knocking Dale Earnhardt off as the man to beat in NASCAR, Gordon was treated as a hero in Indiana, where he moved from his native California to race sprint cars when he was 14.

Indiana native Tony Stewart, too, is fond of waxing rhapsodic about how very much it meant to him to finally win the Brickyard 400 in 2005 and put to rest the demons of years of struggle here.

In 2011, Paul Menard added his family name to the list of Brickyard 400 winners. And it had special meaning, for this is the track where his father, John, had toiled so long trying -- unsuccessfully -- to win the Indianapolis 500.

Menard is the only driver to score his first career Sprint Cup victory at the Brickyard, breaking through in his 167th start when he won here three years ago.

That victory didn't just end his frustration.

For 35 years, John Menard tried and tried and tried to win the Indy 500, but never could get it done, his best result being a third place in 1992 with Al Unser Sr. And all those years, Paul spent every month of May hanging around Gasoline Alley. Finally the younger Menard redeemed three-and-a-half decades of family frustration at a place that holds the ultimate reverence for father and son alike.

"I saw my dad as soon as we pulled into Victory Lane," said Paul after his huge victory. "He came up to the window, said something like, 'Thirty-five 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."

Huge deal, actually.

I'm just a proud father right now.

John Menard

And the victory was just as sweet for dad, too.

"This is just great. I mean, it was Paul's day," said John. "But in a way, our whole family has been at the Speedway for so long. We all tried very hard."

And they tried very hard for a long, long time.

"Paul came down here as a very little guy," said John. "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. He wanted to be a race-car driver."

And then John Menard smiled.

"You know, I'm just a proud father right now."

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