NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2010 NASCAR Driver Review: Paul Menard

Paul Menard

2010 Ride: No. 98 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
2010 Primary Sponsor: Menards
2010 Hood Sponsors: CertainTeed (4 races), Pittsburgh Paints (4 races), Quaker State (4 races), Sylvania (3 races), Mastercraft Doors (3 races), Energizer (3 races), Moen (3 races), Peak (2 point races, plus the Gatorade Duels), Serta (2 point races, plus the Sprint Showdown), Turtle Wax (2 races), Schrock Cabinetry (2 races), Zecol (2 races), NIBCO (Martinsville, March), Vertis (Fontana, October)
2010 Owners: George Gillett, Richard Petty
2010 Crew Chief: Slugger Labbe
2010 Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 1 top five, 6 top 10s, 23rd in points

High Point: Looking at Menard’s body of work for the 2010 season, it is a little hard to say what could have been the best part; his performances were fairly consistent throughout the year. However, the very beginning of the season thrust Menard to levels that he had never seen previously in his Sprint Cup career. A 13th in the Daytona 500, followed by top 20s at Fontana and Las Vegas and the aforementioned fifth at Atlanta put Menard ninth in points four weeks in. Being there included the trappings of weekly press conferences and additional media responsibilities that the Wisconsinite was not necessarily used to.

Low Point: Could there be anything other than the internal turmoil at Richard Petty Motorsports? After running decent over the course of the season, owner George Gillett’s money issues nearly ended it early for the No. 98 team. Gillett’s sale of Liverpool FC for the not-so-skimpy amount of $476 million simply did nothing to fix financial problems that dogged this operation through much of the summer and fall. It was revealed that Gillett had bought the team using a loan with Wachovia Bank (now Wells Fargo Bank) and that the team was upwards of $70 million in debt.

Summary: After a 31st-place finish in points at the end of 2009, there was seemingly no way to go but up. A series of solid runs to start the 2010 season had Menard in uncharted territory, the top 10 in points. However, it would prove to be impossible for Menard to stay up there. The free fall began in earnest with a 29th-place finish in the Subway Fresh Fit 600k at Phoenix. That began a stretch of six straight weeks outside the top 20, including a gut-wrenching wreck at Texas while running inside the top 10.

Surprisingly, the “will they race or won’t they” storyline that followed the No. 98 for the last month or so of the season actually produced some of the best runs of the year for Menard. A 13th-place finish at Martinsville (backing up the 14th from March) and another 13th at Talladega was followed by a 10th at Texas. The only bad finish in the final five races was another 29th-place result at Phoenix; overall, the six top 10s were a career best and 23rd in points also was a new high for the fourth-year driver.

Team Ranking: Second or third, depending on whether you include Kasey Kahne, who didn’t finish the season with RPM.

2011 Outlook: For next season, Menard and his family backing moves away from RPM and goes to a new fourth team at Richard Childress Racing. Since the No. 98 team will shut down as a part of RPM dropping to two cars for 2011, Menard is taking the owner points from the No. 98 with him to RCR. As a result, the No. 27 will be locked into the field for the first five races of the season.

Slugger Labbe will follow Menard to RCR to continue as Menard’s crew chief. Since RCR was much stronger in general than RPM last season (and had nowhere near the amount of strife off-track), improvement should be in the cards for Menard. However, moving over to a team that had all three teams in the Chase last season puts more pressure on him to perform and not serve as an anchor to hold the team back. Finishing in the top 20 in points should be the minimum of expectations for Menard in 2011. A good target would be to build on 2010, hopefully snagging three or so top-five finishes and/or 10 top 10s.

2006 Frontstretch Grade: N/A
2007 Grade: C-
2008 Grade: C
2009 Grade: D
2010 Grade: B-

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