NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2011 NASCAR Driver Review: Paul Menard

Paul Menard

2011 Ride: No. 27 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
2011 Primary Sponsor: Menards
2011 Hood Sponsors: CertainTeed (4 races), Quaker State (4 races), Pittsburgh Paints (4 races), Moen (3 races), Duracell (3 races), Sylvania (3 races), Peak Antifreeze (Daytona 500 & Phoenix – Nov.), Serta Mattresses (Fontana & Talladega – fall), NIBCO (Martinsville – April & Indy), Schrock Cabinetry (Talladega – April & Kansas – fall), Zecol (Chicagoland – fall & Kansas – June), Richmond Water Heaters (New Hampshire – July & Martinsville – fall), Vertis (Phoenix – Feb.), Libman (Richmond – spring), Turtle Wax (Darlington)
2011 Owner: Richard Childress
2011 Crew Chief: Slugger Labbe
2011 Stats: 36 starts, 1 win, 4 top fives, 8 top 10s, 17th in points

High Point: As much of a pleasant surprise that Menard was in 2010, very few dreamed that 2011 would be even better. But thanks to a spectacular March run known to Menard’s fans as “Menarch Madness” that saw Menard average a finish in the first five races of 2011 of 11.8, the Eau Claire, Wis. native again found himself in uncharted territory, being in the top five in Sprint Cup points at one point in the season.

But what was the true high-water mark of the 2011 season was the somewhat-surprising win at Indianapolis, thanks to fuel conservation and holding off Jamie McMurray and a hard-charging Jeff Gordon. The win came at a track that the Menard family had tried to win at for over 30 years and encountered heartbreak and even tragedy along the way until Paul put his father, John Menard, in victory lane for the first time ever at Indianapolis.

Low Point: Given the consistency Menard had for much of the year, it was very tricky to pinpoint exactly what would have been a low-point for the driver of the No. 27 Menards Chevrolet. But given that the Wisconsin native, following his win at Indy, had a very legitimate shot at making the Sprint Cup Chase for the Cup as a wildcard, a hard late-race crash at Watkins Glen pretty much sent the hopes and aspirations for the No. 27 team to make the Chase down in flames. After that race, though Menard had several top-20 runs along the way, he just never could quite recapture the magic he had earlier in the season.

2011 Summary: Few expected Menard to top his 2010 campaign. If anything, many people expected him to fall back down to earth a bit this past season. But, thanks to some of the best equipment Menard has had so far in his career, he put together another consistent season with career highs in top fives and top 10s, not to mention a breakthrough win at Indianapolis and a career-best 17th in the final points standings. It is hard to point out much that Menard could have done better in 2011, but the real question is can Menard keep up this success of the past couple of years in 2012 and become a victory-lane regular? Only time will tell.

Team Ranking: Third of four. In the first part of the year, a strong case could have been made for the No. 27 Menards Chevrolet to have been the second-best car in the RCR faction, but when Clint Bowyer’s performance picked up throughout the year and with the disappointing season Jeff Burton had, Menard ranks a strong third at the end of the season.

2012 Outlook: With a locked-in ride, sponsorship and returning crew chief Slugger Labbe, with whom Menard has had excellent chemistry, the expectations for Menard certainly have to be raised a bit in 2012 since this past season, he proved his 2010 campaign was no fluke.

If the team can keep up their momentum from the past couple of years, we could see Menard perhaps become a consistent contender for wins on the Sprint Cup circuit. But Menard’s Achilles’ heel has been keeping up his early-season momentum through the course of the season. If he can keep up his consistency through a whole season, there is no reason not to think Menard could be a legitimate Chase contender.

2007 Frontstretch Grade: C-
2008 Grade: C
2009 Grade: D
2010 Grade: B-
2011 Grade: B

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