NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Beyond The Cockpit: Paul Menard Taking More Risks in Unknown Future

Known to the world as one of the quietest guys in NASCAR, Paul Menard sits in an interesting spot in his career. He is in the midst of his sixth full season with Richard Childress Racing, a team that has won 11 races since 2011, nine of which came with Kevin Harvick, who hasn’t raced for the organization since 2013. 

The highlight of Menard’s career came at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during his first season with RCR. In 2011, the No. 27 team won the Brickyard 400, something Childress had only done with two other drivers. Since then, it’s been an uphill battle for the team. 

Coming off of a season that saw Menard clinch his first career Chase spot, he has one top-10 finish through 19 races of 2016. Sitting 23rd in the standings, 95 points off the coveted 16th seed, it’s win or go home for the No. 27 car. 

His duo of teammates, Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman, sit comfortably in the Chase and are both having similar seasons as Menard has had since joining RCR. But for Menard, there is more to race for. 2016 happens to be a contract year for Menard, and with rumors swirling around the garage that Richard Childress’ grandson Ty Dillon is moving to the Cup Series in 2017, it leaves one driver without a ride. 

We spoke to Menard at New Hampshire Motor Speedway regarding his 2016 season, the relationship with Childress and his aforementioned future. 

Dustin Albino: Frontstretch.com: How do you think RCR stacks up against some other teams?

Paul Menard: Historically, and for me in my six years here, this is probably the best our short track program has been. Before, we were always much stronger at intermediate tracks and that kind of seems to be our weak spot now. It’s hard to say because everyone is chasing the Toyotas. The Penske cars have been fast at a bunch of races this year. Hendrick is a little bit off from what we’ve seen in the past. We’re just trying to make some ground up on the Toyotas.

(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)
Paul Menard has won at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the past. Can he do it again? (Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

Albino: How did the test go at Indy last week?

Menard: It was good. The tire package seemed to match up pretty well. We didn’t see quite the fall off that we have seen in the past, but with this package I think it’s very raceable. It’s the same package that we run every week basically. I think it will make for a better race.

Albino: Knowing that you won there in 2011, do you feel that’s your best shot at a victory before the Chase?

Menard: I don’t really have one circled that will be our best shot. Indy has been a good track for us in the past. I feel like our intermediate track is not as strong as it has been in the past. I look at it as we’ll go to Indy and then Pocono has been a good track for us. We ran pretty well there in the spring and had a brake rotor explode on us, but I felt like we had a really competitive car. We just take it week-by-week and try to win one wherever we can.

Albino: What specifically does the No. 27 team need to improve on to being consistent and running toward the top 10?

Menard: That’s kind of a loaded question. There are a lot of little things that we need to get more aggressive on. Overall, I feel like we have made some gains throughout the year. It’s just a lot of little things.

Albino: In recent years, you’ve started off hot and then seemed to fade in the second-half of the season. This year it seems to be kind of the opposite. Why do you think it’s different this year?

Menard: We started off the year in Daytona where we didn’t have a good run. Then we went to Atlanta, where we struggled with the intermediate program, which was strong in the past. We normally start the year off pretty good and this year we’ve struggled on intermediates.

Albino: Is it that cars don’t have the speed you thought they would, or not executing?

Menard: Just a lot of little things.

Albino: When you look at the season that Austin is having and even the finish that Ryan had last week, does that give you confidence going forward?

Menard: Yeah, our cars are solid and I feel like we definitely had a top-10 car last week. We kind of messed up on our strategy at the end. We tried to go to the end like Ryan did and went all out and had to stop for fuel and finished 18th. I feel like we definitely had a top 10 car all night long and the other time we ran that rules package at Michigan we ran pretty good that day too. The same type of pit sequence left us out. Austin’s doing a good job and Ryan’s being solid as always and our finishes don’t look good, but we typically run better in the race than where we finish. We’ve got to work on that.

Albino: Are you in favor of the newer rules package that has been tested out for next year?

Menard: If Goodyear can get the tires matched up to the aero package then I’m in favor of it. If they can’t, then I think we should just stick with what we’ve got.

Albino: This is your second season with Justin Alexander (crew chief) in charge. How is the chemistry between you two?

Menard: It’s good. We made the Chase last year, which was a big feather in the cap and this year we’ve struggled. Obviously, it’s not al lovey dovey when you’re not running really good, but we work really well together and try new things and adjustments.

Albino: Is a guy like he, you’re type of crew chief?

Menard: He’s an engineer. Engineers like to see the numbers and work with the computer and that’s good, but sometimes you have to shoot from the hip a little bit to. We balance each other out.

Albino: How does he compare to someone like Slugger?

(Photo: Zach Catanzareti)
Menard isn’t giving much away when it comes to who he might be driving for next season. (Photo: Zach Catanzareti)

Menard: He’s totally different. Slugger is very old-school, where Justin is new-school with a different philosophy on how to work on racecars.

Albino: This is your sixth season with RCR. What has Richard meant to your racing career?

Menard: Richard is a great friend first. Obviously, he’s a Hall of Fame car owner. I’ve known Richard since probably 2000, maybe it was 1999 when Robby Gordon drove the Indy car for him and my dad kind of joined the picture. I’ve known him ever since then. He’s been a real good friend.

Albino: What kind of pressure is there on you to perform well, though you have the financial backing that many drivers wish they had?

Menard: I can tell you that there is teams that are more funded than us, but it’s not a whole package. The guys obviously bust their (butt) back at the shop, trying to make the cars as good as they can. It’s all the little details and things in tech that people might be better at.

Albino: Your contract is up at the end of the year. Where do you stand on that?

Menard: It’s no different than any other year that we’ve had with RCR. August 1 is when our renewal is up and that’s when we start talking about that.

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