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Menard brings solid effort to RCR

Jeff • Mar 12, 2013 at 10:40 PM

You can tell a lot about the man by the vehicle he drives.

Three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart and NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. each have a love for Corvettes and Camaros which is well documented.

Fellow Chevrolet driver Paul Menard isn’t much on those sports cars. Instead, he drives a vehicle which reflects his own personality.

“I own a Chevy Silverado. I’ve never been much of a car driver. I like my pickup trucks,” Menard said. “They drive so good, drive like a car, but you can haul stuff in the back.”

While he’s a truck guy, it doesn’t mean Menard’s not excited about the new Chevy SS he will drive in Sunday’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“That brings a little back of the old-school, what NASCAR is built on, the days when they would drive the cars to the race track,” said the driver of the No. 27 Chevrolet . It’s not that, but at least it looks like that.

“It’s what the sport was built on, so we hope we can build a new, younger fan base.”

Menard, the son of Midwest building materials magnate John Menard, is trying to build his own fan base. He laid a nice foundation racing four seasons for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. and Richard Petty Motorsports before joining Richard Childress Racing in 2011.

That first season with RCR, he had four top-five and eight top-10 finishes including a win in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. Last season, he was better overall with nine top-10s and posting the best average finish of his career. However, he wasn’t challenging for race wins.

“My first year at RCR we had very good speed, qualified well but weren’t very consistent in the races,” he said. “One weekend we would finish top-five, and would finish outside the top-15 the next weekend. This past year, it seemed like we were more consistent, but we lacked the speed.”

He explained a race team is always looking for that elusive balance. Menard, a former winner in the Rolex Grand-Am Series and a 10-time winner in the International Ice Racing Association, believes if the Richard Childress Racing cars have speed this season, his working relationship with crew chief Slugger Labbe will lead to even better finishes.

“You’re always looking for a balance,” said Menard, who finished 10th this past Sunday at Las Vegas. “A lot of times it’s the consistency, but most of the time it’s looking for speed. If we can get a little of the speed back, we can again work on our consistency.”

It’s one reason he worked so hard during the offseason, even during weekends, to get many of his off-track commitments out of the way. Still when he would visit the Welcome, N.C. race shop, he saw his crew working even harder to get the new cars ready for the upcoming season.

“The offseason is very busy, especially for the guys in the fab and body shops trying to get cars rebuilt,” he said. “For drivers, it’s a lot easier but there are still a lot of commitments you do. I always try to come by the shop once or twice a week. Plus, Slugger and I talk on the phone every day. He’s always keeping me informed what’s going on.”

The 32-year-old driver believes it’s important to form those close relationships with the guys on his crew. On the road 38 weekends out of the year, Menard said they become one unit.

“It’s big to get to know the guys on the team,” he said. “We live together and die together on this race team. It’s good to have the camaraderie with your guys. To me, it’s very important.”

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