Driving like a man who was racing to the hospital for the birth of his child, Paul Menard placed third in the Kobalt 400 on Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Menard and his wife, Jennifer, are expecting the birth of the couple’s first child, a boy, on Tuesday.
“My phone’s back at the hauler, so she might’ve called,” Menard said after the race. “I told her to call.”
Brad Keselowski won the 17th annual NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at LVMS in dramatic fashion, passing Dale Earnhardt Jr. after this year’s Daytona 500 winner ran out of gas midway through the final lap of the 267-lap race.
In case Menard had to leave Las Vegas before Sunday’s race to be with his wife, he had 2013 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Matt Crafton standing by to take his place in his No. 27 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
“Matt Crafton’s my backup, and he really wants to get in the car, so I told Jennifer if it’s important, call Matt because he sure as hell is going to tell me,” Menard said. “I didn’t get the call, though, so I guess everything is good.”
Crafton, who has never competed in a Sprint Cup race, finished 12th in Saturday’s Boyd Gaming 300 at LVMS in his fourth Nationwide Series start.
“It’s tough (being on standby), because you just don’t know when or even if it will happen, but kind of like that backup quarterback, you have to be ready at any time,” Crafton said last week. “Paul and I have been good friends going back to 2001. We’ve raced together, and I actually spotted for him early in his career.
“For him to have the confidence in me to get the job done if he has to head back home, that’s awesome.”
It was the second straight week that someone working in Sprint Cup was on baby watch. Paul Wolfe, Keselowski’s crew chief, left Phoenix on March 1 to be with his wife for the birth of the couple’s first son.
The 33-year-old Menard, who started 21st in the 43-car field Sunday, led for six laps. He passed leader Jimmie Johnson on lap 199 before relinquishing the lead to the four-time Sprint Cup champion on lap 205.
“We definitely had a top-three car, and at times the best car,” Menard said. “It was cool going up and passing Jimmie for the lead and leading for a few laps.
“I felt like our car, I could move lanes and we could race people and pass people, which is obviously very important.”
Menard has one career Sprint Cup win — at Indianapolis in 2011 — in 258 starts and last season finished 17th in points in the series. He posted his third top-10 finish in eight races at LVMS, where he said his team made some key adjustments Saturday night.
“We anticipated the track was going to be a little bit hotter and slicker, and it kind of played into our favor,” he said. “We just had a really solid car from the green flag.
“I’m really proud of my guys. We’re clicking real well.”
A Eau Claire, Wis., native, Menard’s father is John Menard, who has a long history in Indy car racing, with Team Menard winning Indy Racing League championships in 1997 — with driver Tony Stewart — and 1999.
John Menard also founded Menards, a home improvement store chain in the Midwest that sponsors Crafton and Paul Menard, who is encouraged about his team’s start this season.
“We have had a really good car the first three races,” he said. “Just missed it about halfway through the race in Phoenix. This is good redemption. The guys never give up. Had a great car in Daytona, obviously led a bunch of laps, but this (Chevy) was hauling ass on long runs.
“Had a lot of those today and it kind of played in our favor.”
After wrapping up his postrace news conference, Menard bolted for the airport.
“I have to catch a flight,” he said.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0354. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.