NASCAR

Menard's win should silence critics

Paul Menard
Paul Menard (left) celebrates his Indy win with team owner Richard Childress.
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Larry McReynolds

Larry McReynolds has more than 30 years of NASCAR experience as a mechanic, Daytona 500-winning crew chief and broadcaster. He earned 23 Sprint Cup wins as a crew chief, including two victories in the prestigious Daytona 500, as well as a pair of non-points victories in the annual all-star race. Follow him on Twitter.

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Like every driver, I guarantee you that Paul Menard has had a little voice in his head asking whether he was good enough to ever win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race.

Well, now that voice has been silenced and trust me, he is feeling a huge sense of relief.

Sunday's Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a game-changing day for him in a lot of ways.

Naturally he becomes our fourth first-time winner of 2011. What’s even more unbelievable is that he also became our 14th different winner in the last 20 races.

Then there was, of course, the nature of the place where he won his first race – Indianapolis. His dad, John Menard, spent so many years going to Indy as an owner in the IndyCar series. He’s also now spent many years in NASCAR and to see his son not only win his first race, but do so in the car his company sponsors just has to be so special for the Menard family.

You have to be excited for team owner Richard Childress as well.

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Obviously he saw something in Paul that made him willing to activate a fourth race team. Now that group has won its first race and at one of our biggest venues. The other thing was a lot of those guys on the team made the move from Richard Petty Motorsports to stay with Paul and crew chief Slugger Labbe.

They went through all the turmoil last year with not knowing if they were going to have a job when the season was over. Not knowing from week to week there in the fall if they were even going to be at the next race. So you have to be thrilled for them as well.

I also am thrilled for Paul because he’s had a lot of naysayers because of the sponsorship from the family company. The knock was if he didn’t have his father’s sponsorship money then he wouldn’t have a ride in NASCAR. Well, now all those critics have been silenced.

In addition to all the success of yesterday, Paul has moved into one of the two wild-card slots for the 2011 Chase. Those spots are available to two teams that have wins but are outside the top 10, and inside the top 20, in the standings.

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There are still six races to go until the Chase field is set and Paul has jumped ahead of some pretty big names.

All along you have heard the drivers and others say “win and you are in” in regards to making the Chase. Now the interesting dynamic you are hearing from the garage is that you are probably going to have to win two races and be in the top 20 in points to get one of the wild-card spots.

There are two drivers outside the top 20 right now that desperately have to get inside it to have their wins count toward those two possible slots. In addition to that, you have three drivers just outside the top 10 who have wins as well.

If you look at these next six races before the Chase cutoff, man there is quite a variety in tracks.

We have Pocono Raceway coming up this weekend, which is basically one notch below being called a road course. Then the very next weekend we have a road-course race at Watkins Glen International. Then it’s the 2-mile track at Michigan International Speedway.

The half-mile at Bristol Motor Speedway follows that and then it’s the one-and-a-half-mile track at Atlanta. Then as we all know, the final race to set the 2011 Chase field takes place under the lights on Sept. 10.

Tagged: Paul Menard

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