Team Chevy Racing
PAUL MENARD, NO. 27 MENARDS/CERTAIN TEED CHEVROLET met with media and discussed his first time in the All-Star race, the race format, his season to date, and more.
YOU ARE MAKING YOUR SPRINT ALL-STAR DEBUT. HOW DOES THAT FEEL? “Good. I’ve been watching it for a lot of years. It’s something we’ve tried to transfer into the last couple of years and that open race is always such a crapshoot. We kind of go for broke. The top two transfer and I think we’ve wrecked out the last three years just going for it. So this year we’re in it. It’s going to be nice to race at night and understand what the track conditions will be like for next weekend and basically we’re going to get aggressive with the set-up and try some things that we haven’t tried before and try to learn stuff for next week.”
HOW LONG AFTER WINNING THE BRICKYARD DID THE THOUGHT OCCUR TO YOU THAT YOU WERE GOING TO BE IN THIS ALL-STAR RACE? “I think the first media stop that we did after victory lane, they said that. It didn’t even cross my mind. So I thought oh, this is pretty cool. We’ll probably get to save a race car and get in the big race, regardless. So it’s a neat experience. Like I said, I’ve been watching it for years and it’s a lot of excitement.”
DALE EARNHARDT JR. JUST SAID AS FAR AS THE SATURDAY NIGHT ALL-STAR EVENT, THAT THERE WAS KIND OF AN UNWRITTEN CODE THAT YOU JUST LET IT GO IF SOMEONE GETS INTO YOUR REAR BUMPER AND FIREWORKS HAPPEN? IS THAT THE WAY YOU’LL LOOK AT THE RACE THIS WEEKEND? “I kind of think it would be the opposite. You’ve got no points to lose but again; I’ve never been in this race before. So the open race for example, that I’ve been in the last few years, it’s pretty hard core. There’s not a lot of give-and-take. It’s a short, I think 20-lap segments and you’ve got to go. Where the All-Star, and the format is like this year with each segment; if you won a segment, you start up front in the final segment. So I think that’s going to make it even more aggressive, especially in the earlier stages.”
BEING IN THE RACE AND NOT HAVING TO GO THROUGH THE SHOWDOWN, HOW DOES THAT CHANGE YOUR WHOLE WEEKEND? “Not a whole lot, honestly. I hope I don’t screw-up qualifying and run too many laps or not enough or something. That’ll be a new experience. But we’ll be on the track here in a little bit and like I said we’re trying some new things with the car and we’ll try to run through some of that and then we’ll focus on qualifying and hitting pit road and trying to figure out how to get off pit road the most efficient way. But for the most part, it’s business as usual. We’re trying stuff and we’ll tune the car to the track.”
LAST YEAR YOU REALLY STARTED TO BREAK THROUGH AND COME ON. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT WHERE YOU ARE THIS SEASON SO FAR? HAVE YOU MADE PROGRESS OR STAYED THE SAME? “Right now, I feel like last year we probably ran faster at this point. We had faster cars. But we struggled finishing races and putting the whole races together. Right now it seems like we’re not running as strong throughout the race, but we’ll finish a race in the top 15 or somewhere and collect points.
“The way the format is to make the Chase, well I think you have to win at least two races to make the Chase with a wild card; but consistency is so important, finishing races and getting those top 15’s and top-10’s and clicking them off. And knock on wood; we haven’t had any problems as far as finishing a race except for the one at Phoenix. So, consistency is key, I think.”
HOW AGGRESSIVE ARE YOU WILLING TO BE, PARTICULARLY ON THAT FINAL 10-LAP SEGMENT IF YOU’RE RIGHT THERE? AS A DRIVER IN THIS FORMAT FOR THE FIRST TIME, HOW DIFFICULT WILL IT BE TO CHANGE YOUR MIND-SET, NO HOLDS BARRED, TO GO FOR THAT MILLION BUCKS? ‘It’s kind of the same as every week where you might want to go harder than you’re capable of going or what the car is allowing you to do and in a longer race you might conserve your tires in a long run. We won’t have many long runs tonight.
“So even if you want to go hard, you don’t want to do anything stupid if the guy in front of you is quicker than you. You can’t really do much with that. But restarts, if there are late restarts, they’re going to get pretty crazy. The easiest spot to pass right now is if you can get a couple of positions on a restart, it goes a long ways to kind of maintain and if we do have late restarts, it’s going to be pretty wild.”
YOU MENTIONED YOU NEED TO WIN A RACE OR TWO TO GET INTO THE CHASE. YOU ARE 29 POINTS OUT OF THE TOP 10. WITH THE NUMBER OF RACES LEFT, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU’RE AT THAT POINT THAT YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO GET IN AS A WILD CARD, OR DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU STILL HAVE A SHOT AT MAKING THE TOP 10 IN POINTS? “We were I want to say, 25 or 30 points behind Newman, going into Talladega; and he wound up getting wrecked or blew a motor and now we’re ahead of him. So, the 29 points gets eaten up pretty quick. You can get into the Chase without winning a race, but it’s going to be a hell of a lot easier if you’ve won a couple.”
REGARDING THE FORMAT, IS IT IMPORTANT TO YOU TO KNOW HOW THIS THING WORKS? OR IS JUST THE TYPE OF THING WHERE THE SPOTTER AND CREW CHIEF TELLS THE DRIVER WHAT TO DO AND I JUST DRIVE THE RACE CAR? “When the announcement was made what the format was, I read it. And then I kind of put it out of my mind for a month or so and I kind of re-visited it this past week just to kind of get acclimated back to it. But the crew chiefs and spotters and all those guys will have a physical sheet of paper that says do this, do this, do this. And us riding around, we won’t have those. And we’re thinking about a lot of the other things. So they’ll keep me up on that, I’m sure. I do know that if you win an early segment, you start up front towards the end and that’s what’s most important.”
SLUGGER LABBE SAID YOU GUYS WERE ABLE TO DO A TEST AT NASHVILLE WITH MULTIPLE CARS WITH THIS NEW AERO PACKAGE THAT NASCAR IS COMING OUT WITH. DIDN’T THAT PROVIDE THE CARS THAT WERE BEHIND THE CAR THE ABILITY TO PULL-UP A LITTLE BIT BETTER AND POSSIBLY HAVE THE ABILITY TO PASS A LITTLE EASIER THAN IT HAS BEEN WITH THE PAST PACKAGE? “The No. 29 (Kevin Harvick) and the No. 31 (Jeff Burton) did the Nashville test and that was last week when we were in New Hampshire for the tire test. We played with the side skirts. We had to wait out the rain for a while and when we finally got on the track, unloaded with the side skirts like normal. And the second run, we cut them and went back out. There was a tenth slower, but we weren’t around other cars. And I haven’t really talked to Burton or Harvick as to if they ran in traffic with each other at the Nasville test. New Hampshire, being quite a bit slower than Nashville, we couldn’t get as good a read on it as those guys could. There was a pretty noticeable difference."