PAUL MENARD, NO. 27 PITTSBURGH PAINTS/MENARDS CHEVROLET, met with members of the media at The Glen and discussed the wild card position for the Chase, his win at Brickyard 400, his relationship with this crew chief and other topics.
TALK ABOUT YOUR SEASON SO FAR AND HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS WEEKEND AT THE GLEN: “We have been just trying to build on some consistency. We’ve had a little bit of an up and down year. The last couple of weeks have been good, which is important leading into the Chase contention. Slugger (crew chief Richard Labbe) said it best after we won at Indy, one victory doesn’t guarantee anything. Brad (Keselowski) kind of proved that last week, two is obviously better than one and that is what we are working hard on is trying to get a second one. Then we will feel pretty good about where we are at. Right now we have a lot of work to do obviously and five races to get it done.”
QUESTION INAUDIBLE: “The emotional swings are there if you want to dwell on it. It’s pretty high pressure right now trying to get in the Chase. But, it is only as much pressure as you put on yourself. I think you could get distracted pretty easily getting caught up in the numbers and who is in, who is out at the current moment. Bottom line is, it doesn’t matter until after Richmond. We just have to obviously to the best job we can and be there after Richmond. Every race is important, but every race all year is important to get you in this position. Like I said, we have five to go and we just have to obviously try to get win number two. Obviously take some risks that we might not take otherwise. We’ve got really good cars. We’ve got a great team. I have all the face in the world in Slugger and how he calls the races. We are going to try and sneak another one out.”
IS THE GLEN A PLACE WHERE YOUR TEAM SAYS WE JUST DON’T WANT TO LOSE ANYTHING HERE AND ANYTHING WE GAIN IS ICING ON THE CAKE? “I think Watkins Glen, well, both road courses, are like a restrictor plate race where it comes down to track position. It comes down every week to track position and clean air. It is a lot easier to have things go wrong and out of your control at a road course and a restrictor plate than at say a Texas or Michigan or something like that. I think you have more things under your control there. We’ve had fast cars here, I’ve run out of fuel running in the top-10 on the last lap. Been caught up in some wreck and just flat out not run good here. We just have to come away with as many points as we can. That is what we try to do every week, is come away with as many points as we can. It sound kind of boring, but that is just what we do.”
HOW DO YOU STOP YOURSELF FROM POINTS RACING OR DO YOU THINK ‘I BETTER TAKE IT EASY IN THOSE CORNER BECAUSE I MIGHT WRECK AND LOSE POINTS’? IS THAT PART OF THE EQUATION? “No, no I don’t think it is. You points race all year and that is always in the back of your mind if you push a little bit too hard, you are going to end up in the fence. Or, if you are off-track in the gravel pit, it is just a risk/reward. Every point is very important so you try hard for every point. But at some point in the back of your mind, you realize you might not be able to get that position or it might not be worth wrecking a race car and losing the 15 points for that one. It is just a risk/reward that every driver fights every lap.”
TALK ABOUT YOUR FRIEND REGAN SMITH WHO GOT HIS FIRST WIN THIS YEAR AT DARLINGTON AND WHAT YOU WILL DO FOR HIS WEDDING: “I’m not married, I don’t have any wedding plans but he is getting married the weekend after Miami. We have been good friends since we were running Nationwide Series together since ’06, he ran full-time there and so did I. Then we wound up being teammates at DEI (Dale Earnhardt, Inc.) in 2008. Just became really good friends through being teammates. We take a vacation every year. We go skiing out in Colorado or somewhere a couple of times a year. Our girlfriends are really close too. We have a good relationship. He is a great guy and a great race car driver. I like to see him up in the top-20 so he can be in contention for the wild card too. I am looking forward to his wedding and celebrating that in the off-season.”
HOW FUNNY WOULD A NASCAR CAR LOOK AT HIS WEDDING WITH THE TIN CANS AND OLD SHOES ON THE BACK? “His personal car looked pretty much like that after he won at Darlington. Jen (my girlfriend and I) decorated his car up pretty good about 2:30 in the morning on the drive home. But I think we can probably do something for his wedding too.”
WHAT ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT IN TERMS OF MAKING THE CHASE, WHO DO YOU HAVE TO BEAT, WHO DO YOU LOOK AT THE NEXT THREE OR FOUR RACES? “We’re 50 points out of 10th, somewhere around there. The two guys that are ninth and 10th in points, Dale (Earnhardt) Junior and Tony (Stewart). Dale, Jr. finished right in front of me and Tony finished right behind me last week so we really didn’t make up anything there. Our chances for getting in the Chase are a wild card. If we can get a second win or be the first guy with a win highest up in points, it is going to be tough to get in the top-10. It is a lot of points to make up in a short period of time. We’re working hard on just maintaining where we are at, maybe try to gain a spot or two. We are going to try to get in the top-10, but that is a long way out but if we can sneak out a second win, that would go a hell of a long ways.”
ARE YOU THE TYPE OF DRIVER THAT PAYS ATTENTION TO WHERE THOSE OTHER GUYS ARE EACH WEEK OR IS THAT SOMETHING THAT SLUGGER (RICHARD LABBE, CREW CHIEF) IS FOCUSED ON AND YOU JUST DRIVE AND THINK ABOUT THE RACE? “I’ll look at it after the race Monday morning, pull up the points and where everybody is at and try to get a snapshot of where everybody’s at. Where we are, where they are. Slugger is the guy, he is in there during the race, during the rain delay at Pocono, he was crunching numbers, seeing if we wanted it to rain or wanted to keep racing. He was thinking about what happens if Joey (Logano) won; or if we go back racing and finish fifth and then again, if we finished 20th or something. He is really into it. He loves the numbers game part of it. I just kind of look at it after the fact.”
DID YOUR SUCCESS AT RCR (RICHARD CHILDRESS RACING) COME QUICKER THAN YOU EXPECTED? “Coming over to RCR, I knew what cars they had touring the shops, seeing the people Their engines, I’ve driven their engines before with ECR, their engines are unbelievable. I knew that we were going to have fast cars. Slugger and I had a great relationship last year in a lot of turmoil. It is a lot more stable here at RCR and their cars are, frankly, better. So I figure that we could at least maintain and move up in points. To be here in contention for the Chase, I kinda hoped that we would. I didn’t know that we would. I guess say that we expected to be in this position, but definitely hoped and worked hard to do it. It is a great place. I love being at RCR. Like I said, they have really fast race cars; great people; great horsepower.”
WHEN DID YOU FIRST REALIZE THAT YOU AND SLUGGER CLICKED AND YOU ARE A QUIET GUY AND LOW KEY AND SLUGGER IS FIRED UP, WHEN DID YOU REALIZE YOU GUYS REALLY WORKED? “We balance each other out pretty nicely. He’s very high-strung, I’m not. I was the guy that sat down with Slugger initially and tried to bring him over to RPM (Richard Petty Motorsports) at the beginning of last year. We sat at a Starbucks in Cornelius, North Carolina and just kind of bs’d a little bit. We knew each other a little bit from DEI (Dale Earnhardt, Inc.) and he went on and did some other things. Had a great talk and he was gung-ho, he wanted to do it. Started off the year, we did one pre-season test before we went to Daytona last year. Daytona went really well. Liked the relationship, but probably when we went to Atlanta and we finished fifth in Atlanta, like the fourth or fifth race of the year, he was making some calls on the radio to get us some track position, that is probably when we knew we could work well together and trust in each other. Which is what you need in this sport, is a lot of trust.”
DO YOU DO ANYTHING SPECIAL TO PREPARE FOR COMING TO A DEMANDING RACE COURSE LIKE WATKINS GLEN? “No, not really. With the Lucky Dog, it is a lot easier now obviously (to make up a lap), but we just don’t see that many cautions to get laps back. If you go off the track, I know they have eliminated a couple of gravel traps here, so if you go off, it depends where obviously, but it’s not as big of a deal. As far as preparation, in the past, we’ve tested quite a bit for road courses. The problem is that we test at places like Road Atlanta and VIR (Virginia International Raceway) and Kershaw (Carolina Motorsports Park), then you show up at the race track and it is totally different. This year we haven’t tested one time for a road course. Qualified third at Sonoma, had a good car; got its fenders knocked in during bumper cars, you know how that plays out. We haven’t tested for here but based on the tire and the things we learned from Sonoma, we’re doing something a little bit different here this weekend trying to activate the tires a little bit differently. Hopefully it plays out, but we really haven’t done any testing or anything because it is apples to oranges.