It was a combination of experience and no experience that won Saturday afternoon's Food World 300 ARCA race at Talladega Superspeedway for youngster Paul Menard and team boss Andy Petree.

Menard, who had never seen Talladega's high banks before this weekend, and Petree, who won the first of many races as a crew chief at the famed 2.66-mile oval, teamed up to post their first win of the 2003 season in dominating fashion by leading the race's final 52 laps.

Menard started from the back of the field in his Turtle Wax-Monaco Coaches Chevrolet and quickly moved up the charts with a car everyone knew was one of the fastest in the field. While Menard had never been exposed to Superspeedway drafting, he used his spotter's guidance to climb to ninth spot in the race's first nine laps.

"Running out front was great when we got there," said Menard in his first season with Andy Petree Racing. "But getting there from the back was actually very fun. It's a different type of racing for sure. I just kept the pedal down and listened to my spotter who helped me get where we needed to be in the main pack."

Menard made his first pit stop on lap 29 where the team elected to take on fuel and right side tires when the rest of the leaders did not. The stop allowed Menard to pit for a final time on lap 54 and take a gamble on fuel for the distance. The gamble paid off as the rest of the field waited to pit ten laps later moving Menard to the front where he remained for the rest of the race, missing the "big wreck" in the process.

"I'm not sure what happened there because it was behind me, but that's part of the beauty of being out front. There was only one instance where I lifted and that was going into turn one four-wide early in the race. While I didn't want to get out of it, I figured nothing good was going to come out of that deal and just waited for the next corner to get a run and get by. But I really didn't get nervous until the end when (Billy) Venturini started to really put the heat on in the closing laps. He had a couple of runs at me that got close. My spotter did such a good job though telling me where he was and getting me to use his air.

"What a day though! Andy and this whole team gave me such a great car. Knowing how much experience and how many wins Andy has at this track definitely gave me a comfort zone coming in here. This race wasn't even on our original schedule, but we wanted to get some drafting experience for the Busch Series next year."

For Andy Petree, the win was a welcome return to Talladega where he won his first race as a Winston Cup team owner in 2001 with driver Bobby Hamilton. His win with Menard was especially sweet.

"Paul just did another outstanding job, as did this team. When we signed Paul we were honestly expecting to go through a much bigger learning curve than we have. He stepped right in and has been a professional from day one. I think everyone saw that today."

Menard's next event will be the South Boston NASCAR Truck Series race next weekend.

 

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