|NAME: Paul Menard||CAR OWNER: Richard Childress|
|SPONSOR: Menards||CREW CHIEF: Richard “Slugger” Labbe|
|CAR #: 27||MANUFACTURER: Chevrolet|
Paul Menard enters 2013 coming off his best Sprint Cup points finish ever (16th). The question now is whether it was something to build on at Richard Childress Racing, or the ceiling of a career some thought would never get this far.
Menard had a 2012 season in which he flew under the radar but posted some decent finishes, including more than a third of his career top-10 total. He wasn’t a threat to win, unable to repeat 2011’s Brickyard 400 upset, but he was doing exactly what his RCR team needed: improving his cars and finishing races. It’s been said that in today’s competitive environment, a top 15 is the new top 10, and Menard was right there on average. Known for racing clean and staying consistent, he failed to finish only one event, and that was by a single lap. He finished worse than 30th only once, a 31st at Phoenix in February, which is something that not even Cup champion Brad Keselowski can claim.
If Menard enters 2013 with modest momentum, he also enters with maximum stability. Crew chief Richard “Slugger” Labbe is back at the helm, primary sponsor Menards certainly isn’t going anywhere (the company is owned by his father), and while he’s entering a contract year, teammate Kevin Harvick’s pending departure, along with the potential funding that goes with it, should make him a must to re-sign. Outside of the Dillon boys, Austin and Ty — who have yet to reach the Cup Series — Menard’s situation is easily the most solid at RCR.
Ironically, it’s that stability that could hurt Menard as the organization goes through major upheaval in 2013. With Harvick leaving and Austin Dillon potentially coming on board in 2014, the No. 29 team will have to be doubly focused. The No. 31 team of Jeff Burton desperately needs some attention after a miserable 2012, which leaves Menard as a third wheel, and not a squeaky one. RCR doesn’t have to worry about attracting a sponsor for the No. 27. They don’t need to worry about improving the team so that they can focus on the incoming driver a year from now. Menard, despite one top-5 finish in 2012, is apparently just fine as is — the least of RCR’s concerns in a world where less attention means you’re already behind by an extra tenth. Menard’s quiet nature makes him an easy sacrifice. That probably means a backslide in the team structure and in the standings.
That’s unfortunate for a driver who, for his under-the-radar reputation, has shown the ability to be consistent — albeit not consistently great. There’s no Chase in the future here, and that admittedly may never change. But for someone who’s worked to shed the “family money” label and has truly dedicated himself, it’s ironic that the riches will be used to benefit everyone at RCR but Menard himself.
What the Competition is Saying
Anonymous quotes from crew chiefs, competitors and media
Despite winning the 2011 Brickyard 400 and enjoying his most consistent season to date in 2012, Paul Menard is still viewed as a driver that, in large part, has a seat thanks to his family’s money. A notion that isn’t entirely fair.
“Quietly aggressive,” is how one rival describes Menard. “Paul has shown, throughout the years, that if he’s in the right circumstance with the right team, that he deserves to be here. He’s the quiet gentleman that you’d never know is a billionaire. Menard isn’t on anyone’s list as an A-driver, but definitely is a B-plus driver. That Brickyard win proved he belongs in the Cup Series.”
One crew chief believes Menard’s “quiet aggression” sometimes work to his detriment:
“Sometimes he’s a little too quiet, and sometimes isn't as aggressive as he should be. There are times he lets people run over him when he shouldn’t.”
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