Paul Menard, No. 27 Menards Chevrolet SS, met with members of the media at Daytona and discussed NASCAR changes and other topics.
WHY DO YOU THINK NASCAR MADE CHANGES TO THE CHASE AT THIS TIME? “My understanding is that it gets us more in line with other professional sports, like football and basketball as far as percentages of teams that make the playoffs. That is my understanding.”
ANY CONCERNS IN THE LONG RUN THAT WINNING A CHAMPIONSHIP MIGHT NOT PULL THE SAME WEIGHT THAT IT ONCE DID? “No, not at all. I don’t see why it would change that because before 2004 we had accumulated points throughout the year and one guy won the championship. Then we went to the Chase format and the guy that did that format the best won the championship. This is just a new format where the champion is going to be the one that does that the best. So however they lay it out, somebody is going to win the championship. We are all going to try and win races and I don’t see a whole lot changing really.”
WORK ETHIC IS BIG FOR A DRIVER IN THIS SPORT. WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU PICKED YOURS UP? “Yeah, well work ethic definitely comes from just being around my family. Both my parents have tremendous work ethics. My dad built a business after growing up as a farm kid and waking up at 4:30 am and milking cows and then again at night before he went to bed. He vowed to not do that for a living so he built a business.
My mom grew up in a hard-working, blue collar family. Her dad worked every day at a tire factory, Uniroyal, in town so I definitely got my work ethic from my parents.”
DO YOU REMEMBER YOUR FIRST SET OF WHEELS AS A KID? “My brother and I got a three-wheeler. I was three years old and he was five. We got a three-wheeler and then they outlawed three-wheelers so we got a four-wheeler a couple years later after the three-wheeler fell apart. But I rode four-wheelers and dirt bikes a lot growing up.”
CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE INTENSE PHYSICAL AND MENTAL CHALLENGES OF BEING IN THE RACE CAR? “Yeah, it’s more mental than physical for sure. I mean there are some tracks that really wear you down physically too. Dover in June just gets really hot and you are physically worn out but for the most part it’s mental. Trying to figure out what you need to do to make your car better for adjustments, how to figure out a line to get around a guy to pass them. So you are constantly searching around the race track and trying to feel your way around. The things we feel in a race car are very subtle and you really have to pay attention to what your body is telling you.”
DO YOU THINK THERE WILL BE ANY ADDITIONAL DRAMA AT THE END OF THE RACE IF THE NO. 3 CAR GETS WRECKED? I GUESS EVEN WORSE IF IT WAS YOU? “That would not be good. You never want to wreck anybody intentionally but sometimes you have to take care of yourself and your team if you feel like you have been wronged. I never like tearing up race cars because it’s not the driver that has to fix it; it’s the race team that has to fix it. So I try to maybe talk away from the track.
A lot of guys don’t like to do that and they take to social media and TV media and get their feelings out there as opposed to just going behind the hauler just man-to-man. Unfortunately that is the world that we live in and you just have to take care of it as you go.”
DO YOU THINK THAT THERE WOULD BE MORE (DRAMA) IF THEY WRECK AUSTIN JUST BECAUSE HE IS IN THE THREE CAR? “Yeah, if someone wrecks Austin on purpose. I mean, Austin is going to crash at some point because we all crash. Sometimes it’s because of somebody else, but it’s not intentional. If someone intentionally wrecks him then it’s going to be more dramatic I think than if somebody intentionally wrecked me or something. But at the same token, Austin has a smart head and he knows how to take care of himself. He is a big boy and he can get them back when he can.”
YOU GUYS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A TEAM THAT HAS TAKEN CHANCES, FUEL MILEAGE CHANCES, ETC. WITH THE NEW CHASE CHANGES, YOU THINK THERE WILL BE MORE OF THAT LIKE AS WE GET CLOSER TO RICHMOND? “That is about the only thing that is going to change in the Chase is that you might stretch that fuel mileage a couple more laps and risk running out of fuel. Before if we did a fuel mileage... and I hate running out of gas as most people do….but instead of having a calculated risk, you might throw a Hail Mary where you are pretty sure you are not going to make it but you have to try. And I think that is going to be one of the only things that are going to change about the Chase where you still have your calculated risks but somebody might take more of a bigger swing at it.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL GETTING IN THE CHASE WOULD CHANGE YOUR WHOLE SEASON? “I have never been in the Chase but for the last three years at RCR we have been on the wall. And at Richmond, being on the wall means you are in contention for the Chase. We just haven’t done it. This year we have no excuses and we have our best opportunity ever I feel like. I feel like we are the most prepared and in 2011 if we had gotten in the Chase, who knows what would have happened. I think we ended the year fairly strong so everybody has got their would’ve, could’ve, should’ve, and that was one of our years.”
HOW DID YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR FATHER GROWING UP AFFECT YOUR RACING CAREER? I ASSUME HE TOOK YOU TO THE TRACK FIRST, BUT HOW DID THAT GO? “My dad is a huge race fan obviously. He raced himself and would run go-carts, and would ice race and did some stuff called the Firestone Firehawk Series. I think it was an IMSA sanctioned series that he used to play around in a couple times a year with a guy named Jeff Sendon out of Indianapolis.
I grew up following him to race tracks and I remember sitting on his lap working the steering wheel while he worked the pedals on the go-cart. He taught me at a young age how to drive a pick-up truck with a stick shift. I was a crew member on the ice racing team in the winter time before I was old enough to drive so I just grew up around the race track.”
WHY DO YOU THINK THIS SPORT IS TRUE OF FATHERS AND SONS MORE THAN OTHER TRADITIONAL STICK AND BALL SPORTS? “Well, I think a dad in racing can be a crew chief also. Where not necessarily a dad can be a coach in football or baseball. It’s more interactive than football or baseball is. Obviously a driver and a crew chief have to have a relationship unlike in ball sports where someone runs around the field where the other guy watches. You have to interact and react to make things faster and better. So it’s probably a good thing where a father gets to know his son and vice versa.”
WHAT IS YOUR FONDEST MEMORY OF BEING AT THE RACE TRACK WITH HIM? “I went to Indianapolis a lot with him and the month of May was so crazy that I didn’t see him a whole lot. I would be down there but he was obviously busy. The best times that I had racing with my dad were ice racing. Just as a little kid at eight years old and up until I started racing when I was 15. Just hanging out and it was pretty relaxed. Some of the cars had two seats in it. If our car didn’t have two seats he would go borrow someone else’s and he would give me a ride around the track and it was pretty open and pretty relaxed.”
IF IT WAS NOT FOR HIM DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD HAVE FOUND RACING ON YOUR OWN? “Probably. You know, growing up in the Midwest and in Wisconsin in particular because there is a lot of racing up there. I go home and everyone has a sticker in the back of the window of a local dirt tracker or something. I definitely would know a lot about it but not sure I would be involved to the extent that I am but I definitely would have discovered it and would have the passion for it that I have.”