In case you hadn’t noticed, Paul Menard is a pretty quiet guy, a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver who doesn’t waste a lot of words.
And in his typical quiet style, the 33-year-old Eau Claire, Wisconsin, native is quietly having the best year of his career. Menard comes into Sunday’s Crown Royal Presents the John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard ranked 11th in points, which for now is good enough to place him in the final transfer spot into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Of course, the Chase field won’t actually be finalized for another seven races, but Menard is in a good spot nevertheless. And when you consider that in seven previous full seasons, Menard has never finished higher than 17th, 11th looks pretty darn good.
Back in 2011, Menard won a surprising victory here at Indy, holding off a hard-charging Jeff Gordon to win his first — and so far only — career Cup race. It was a hugely emotional triumph, especially since his father, John Menard, spend three decades trying to win the Indianapolis 500 as a car owner, but never managed to seal the deal.
In an exclusive interview with FOXSports.com, Paul Menard said his Brickyard 400 victory remains a powerful memory.
"I still think about it once in a while," said Menard. "You have a bad day or something, you always have that that you can go back to. That obviously never goes away, but I’m so focused on right now and trying to get in the Chase. No matter what I do in my career, that’s probably the biggest thing I’m going to accomplish because it is Indianapolis and the history my family’s had. But our focus right now is the Chase, and that would be a close second."
To that end, Menard, crew chief Slugger Labbe and the rest of the No. 27 Richard Childress Racing team are continuing on, business as usual. As much as they would love to win another Brickyard, the task at hand right now is making it into NASCAR’s playoff round.
"Really, we’re just going to keep doing our deal," said Menard. "I feel like we’re in a pretty good spot. The big thing that’s escaped us is laps led. As an organization, RCR hasn’t led many laps. We’ve been getting a lot of top fives and things, but we haven’t been in front for any kind of duration."
Menard is correct.
So far this season, through 19 races, Menard has led 45 laps, Ryan Newman has led 10 and Austin Dillon has led three. That’s a total of 58 laps led among three cars. By comparison, 16 different Sprint Cup drivers have led more laps individually than RCR has as an entire team. That said, Menard has three top-five finishes so far this year and Newman two, and both drivers are Chase eligible right now.
Still, Menard knows the team needs to pick it up.
"That’s probably the No. 1 thing — just trying to get a little more speed," said Menard. "That’s what everyone in the garage is looking for. With us it’s no different. I feel like we’ve got a good race-to-race package, just trying to get a little more speed out of it."
A look back at Paul Menard’s victory in the 2011 Brickyard