|Paul Menard gets first career victory at the Brickyard (Getty)|
On Sunday, the dream came true. In a season full of improbable first-time winners in NASCAR's foremost races, Menard, 30, stretched his fuel mileage and held off a charging Jeff Gordon to win Sunday's Brickyard 400 at the 2.5-mile track.
The victory was Menard's first as a Sprint Cup driver, and it catapulted him into the conversation for a wild-card berth in the Chase. Gordon, who closed rapidly in the final five laps, crossed the finish line .725 seconds behind the season's fourth first-time winner.
"My first year here was 1989, that I can remember anyway -- I think I was here when I was 3 or 4 years old, too," said Menard, whose father, John Menard, has fielded IndyCars for a variety of drivers. "I just spent a lot of time in the garage area. I didn't miss an Indy 500 from 1989 to 2003.
"I was here for the inaugural Brickyard 400 in 1994. It's just a really special place for my family and myself."
Regan Smith, who notched his first career victory in the Showtime Southern 500 at Darlington in May, came home third, followed by Jamie McMurray, last year's Brickyard winner. Matt Kenseth ran fifth, and Tony Stewart salvaged a sixth-place result despite a litany of problems throughout the race.
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Brickyard 400 Results