NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2016 NASCAR Rewind: Paul Menard

Why so serious all the time?

NASCAR drivers are always focused on one goal, winning. However, Richard Childress Racing driver Paul Menard is often referred to as being emotionless, never telling whether or not he is happy or straight up mad.

2016 was a year of struggles for Menard and the No. 27 team. During the 36 race season, he had just three top-10 finishes, his lowest since 2009 when he was competing with Robert Yates Racing.

Menard did lead 20 laps in 2016, more than Chase drives Jamie McMurray, Chris Buescher and RCR teammate Austin Dillon. Combined, the trio of RCR teammates paced the Cup Series for a total 61 laps.

Coming off a strong 2015 season, which included Menard into his first Chase, 2016 was a disappointing season. In the past, the No. 27 team would start off the season red hot, picking up top-10 finishes on a consistent basis, but the second half of the regular season the train would start to roll off the tracks. This season, the train could never get going.

The Wisconsin native had a low of career lows, in terms of his six year tenure at RCR. He finished 25th in the championship standings, lowest since that 2009 season. His average finish was 22nd, also lowest since 2009 and he had six DNFs, his most since 2007 when he was competing for Dale Earnhardt, Inc.

“There are a lot of little things that we need to get more aggressive on,” Menard told Fronststretch in July. “Overall, I feel like we have made some gains throughout the year. It’s just a lot of little things.”

A lot of little things indeed. Beginning at Pocono Raceway in late July, team owner Richard Childress decided to go in a different direction, moving XFINITY Series veteran crew chief Danny Stockman, Jr. to the pit box for Menard. Justin Alexander stepped down after spending nearly two seasons with the No. 27 crew.

Right off the bat Stockman set the bar high as the duo qualified third at Pocono, the highest Menard had qualified since he qualified in the second row at Martinsville Speedway in April, en route to leading 10 laps early in the event. The team finished 19 laps down at Pocono after a transmission failed, finishing 35th.

Menard felt as though his performance on intermediate tracks was down from previous years as he had a best finish of 14th on 1.5-mile race tracks, coming in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. However, he believed that the short track program at RCR was among some of the best in NASCAR.

“This is probably the best our short track program has been.,” he said. “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 and the Penske cars.”

Of course, that was before Jimmie Johnson conquered his seventh Cup Series title in November at Homestead.

2017 will look to be a better season for Menard. Veteran crew chief Matt Borland will be atop the pit box, last winning a race in 2013 as Newman’s crew chief at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Stewart-Haas Racing. The No. 27 team is returning most, if not all of its crew members.

In the past two seasons combined, all three of the RCR cars have made the Chase at one point or another. With the resurgence of Dillon in 2016, it will bring hope to Menard’s camp, knowing that he can be more competitive than 2016.

If Menard does have a better season and potentially qualifes for his second career shot at a championship, people might look at him and finally realize why he is so serious all the time.

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