Daytona Beach, Florida
An Interview With: Paul Menard
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR cam video teleconference. Our guest today is Paul Menard from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Paul won the Brickyard 400 last Sunday making him the first driver to win his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at the famous Yard of Bricks. By winning Paul became the fourth first-time winner this year, the most since 2007. Paul became the 14th different winner, the most through 20 races, since 2003. With his victory, he has put himself in contention for one of the two Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup wild card spots.
Menards has a rich history in racing.
Paul, with six races before the Chase, how confident are you that you can potentially earn one of the wild card spots for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup?
PAUL MENARD: Well, thanks for having me on, first off.
We're pretty confident. We're 14th in points. One really big win at the Brickyard not only for the wild card contention, but the race means a lot to me and my family.
We have six races to go before Chicago, the first race of the Chase. That should be an exciting race in and of itself. We have six races to go before then. We have some good tracks for us; we have some bad tracks for us. We just got to keep working hard and show up with our best stuff every week.
We brought a brand-new racecar to Indy. I'm not sure we're going to bring anymore brand-new racecars but we're going to pick and choose our best bullets and bring them each week.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead now with questions for Paul.
Q. Paul, I wanted to find out how are you able to conserve fuel and do you know just how much was left in the fuel cell after the race?
PAUL MENARD: We had about half a gallon left. After the burnouts, I started to do a victory lap. I figured I would run out if I did that. We had half a gallon left, which is maybe a lap.
As far as saving fuel, you know, from the time the jack dropped on our last pit stop, I was saving fuel. I wasn't running that hard down pit road. Once we got going, things strung out enough where I could kind of dictate the pace. Started lifting a little bit early. The more I lifted, watching my mirror, the more Mark and Jamie lifted, too. Those were the only two cars behind me that I could see. Kind of like as I backed up, they backed up with me. Just less throttle, less wide-open throttle. There were 15, 20 laps during the race where I never even got to wide open.
Q. How nervous were you when you saw the 24 and you knew he was carrying a full load of fuel?
PAUL MENARD: Well, we obviously kept track of where he was and how fast he was coming. You know, our whole goal is to save enough early in the run so that we could race him at the end. Slugger played that out beautifully. I was trying to relay just how much I thought I was saving. Bottom line is we had no idea.
The point came where the 24 was going to pass us if we maintained our conservation pace, and we said, Hell with it, we're going to try to win this thing. We took off and luckily we had that half gallon extra.
Q. How was your Victory Lane celebration? Any drivers show up that were unexpected to congratulate you?
PAUL MENARD: Jeff came down and Regan Smith came down. Regan is a great friend of mine. Jeff is a champion, man. He's a four-time champ, four-time Brickyard champ. He was genuinely happy for me, my family, Richard, Slugger, all those guys. That meant a lot.
Q. Paul, tell me what your schedule has been like since Sunday night.
PAUL MENARD: Well, the post-race celebration and all the media immediately after that still at Indy took probably about four hours. I fly with the race team. We fly with a chartered jet that ETA provides. Those guys were really patient waiting on us.
When we got on the plane, there was a big ovation. Made me feel really good. I didn't even take a shower because I felt bad making those guys wait. I hurried to the airport. They all gave a big applause as we walked on. That felt really good.
Flew back home to North Carolina here. Got home 10:30 or so. Really couldn't sleep. Laid in bed. Probably got three hours of sleep. Had to get up early. Went up to ESPN in Bristol, Connecticut yesterday. Got back at a decent hour. Finally just kind of sat on the couch, absorbed it all about 8:00, 9:00 last night. Had a cold drink, got about eight hours of sleep. And now here we are again.
Q. Your personality is so low-key. Was there a point Sunday where you just wanted to scream, Yahoo, turn some cartwheels, do something really outside your personality?
PAUL MENARD: Well, yeah, I mean, it's just how I express myself, I guess. You know, I'm as excited as anybody could be to win the Brickyard 400. I might just have a different way of showing it.
When I finally got some quiet time last night, I cried a little bit, which felt good. You know, we just have different ways of expressing ourselves.
Q. Paul, a lot's made of the money your family has, that type of thing. But isn't that an advantage? You don't have to worry from year to year about a sponsor. Does that take pressure off and give you the ability to just focus on the racing?
PAUL MENARD: Yes and no. You know, my bosses are my family in a lot of ways. We all know how family interacts. It can get too emotional at times and it makes it hard to stay focused.
Menards has a rich history in racing. They were involved before me in this sport. Who knows after if I ever retire, when I retire, probably be involved after me. We've got a lot of great drivers that drive for us right now. Frank Kimmel, eight-time, nine-time champion. Matt Crafton does a great job in the Truck Series. We've sponsored some IndyCars, NHRA cars, Kevin Harvick's Nationwide car.
We're invested in this racing thing.
Q. Paul, can you talk about what your team needs to do to make the Chase as far as improvements in certain areas.
PAUL MENARD: Well, three of our tracks we feel really good about. Michigan and Bristol we've had top fives at already this year. Atlanta last year we ran strong both races. Watkins Glen, we have run good there in the past. Haven't had the greatest finishes. Anything can happen there. We could win the race; we could finish 30th. We're going to try our hardest to get a good result.
The biggest question mark would be Richmond. Short tracks have been our struggle the last two years with Slugger and me. I was trying to work with our teammates, RCR historically running really well there, working really hard with our teammates to get a good package that will work for us.
Q. You went through your schedule since Sunday night. What would have been your schedule if you hadn't of won?
PAUL MENARD: Monday is like a recovery day basically. Kind of get some stuff done around the house. Wednesdays normally I go to the shop. Tuesday I work out with my trainer and stuff. Actually did this morning. Felt good to sweat a little bit. Pretty tired. But Wednesday is kind of my shop day.
Every week is a little bit different.
Next week I'm gone all week. Going to be the best man at my brother's wedding. Glad we won this week. We'll try again next week, though.
Q. Paul, you said in your open that you have some good tracks coming up for you and some bad tracks. Where would you classify Pocono? How will the win from Indy kind of carry the momentum coming into this weekend?
PAUL MENARD: I mean, Pocono and Indy, they look a lot different on paper, get an aerial view of the track, look totally different. But a lot of the same things apply between the two.
We had a really strong car in the race in June there. We obviously qualified second. We were running second or third when we had a competition caution. I sped down pit road, put us in the back. We kind of played catch-up all day long. There weren't many cautions where we could do two tires or play some strategy games. We just kind of had to race our way back up there. I think we found up 14th or something. Basically did that the old-fashioned way: just passing cars.
I think we had a strong car. If that hadn't have happened, if I hadn't sped, we could have had a shot.
Q. With everything going on with the win at Indy, you said you sat down on the couch last night. What was the biggest thing that hit you? Has it sunk in yet that you won the Brickyard 400?
PAUL MENARD: One of the neatest parts is just the text messages, the emails, the phone calls that I've gotten. You know, it took me a solid day in between all of our media stuff at ESPN, finally got some time. Laying in bed I couldn't sleep, so I started replying to a lot of text messages on the airplane to Connecticut and on the airplane back. I was replying to text messages. If I haven't gotten back to you, I will.
Probably 150 plus text messages, emails, phone calls. Makes a guy feel pretty good.
Q. Could you take us for a ride around Pocono and how you drive it.
PAUL MENARD: I mean, three totally different corners. You got forever to go down the straightaway. It's going to be hot, sweating, you can get a drink of cold water from your drink bottle.
You go into turn one. There's some track lights and a sign board, like a 1-2-3 sign board. We brake about the 150, maybe the 100 mark. Probably be shifting again, based at your lowest rpm. Not like a road course where you use your engine to help you slow down. Click it into third quick.
Basically when you do your throttle to go into third, you just keep it down to accelerate out. Just makes for a lot smoother transition going that fast.
I think we pulled fourth going into turn two. Turn two is a lot like Indy. It's very flat, short, very line sensitive. A lot of bumps down right by the curb where you have to run to be fast. It's very easy to overdraft turn two. You kind of have to back up your corner a little bit. I think there's another track light that you brake at. But basically get to the gas as soon as possible, even if it's really light, accelerate out of two.
Turn three is a lot of fun because they put that strip down a few years ago. It's starting to wear out where you don't have to run on it all the time. You can run the bottom or that strip. It's not real line sensitive. You sail it down into there. When it slides and grips, you go back to the gas, try to hang on to it on exit.
Q. Paul, I saw the picture that was taken of your motorhome which had been toilet papered. What was it like to see that?
PAUL MENARD: Yeah, I think that was Bowyer's coach driver that did that one along with Harvick's and Dale Jr.'s Uncle Mike. I saw a picture of it before I got there. I knew what to expect. But it was cool.
I still love the history and everything of motorsports...
It's a big family on the road. All the coach drivers hang out together. All us drivers kind of see each other in the parking lot every week. It's a big family. It meant a lot to have a little bit of fun with it.
Q. You said your schedule has been so busy, you finally had a chance to reflect on the win the other night, said you cried a little bit. What was it that impacted you so much when you finally had that time to sit back and realize what you'd done?
PAUL MENARD: A couple things. Just knowing how hard Slugger and all the guys work, just kind of thinking about, you know, the sheer man-hours that they put in every week to get that done.
Then, you know, thinking about my dad, what he's gone through to try to win a race at Indianapolis. Just kind of thinking about all the times I spent as a kid in the infield, in the garage area, riding around on a golf cart in awe of Al Unser, Sr., Al Unser, Jr., got to meet Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, true legends of worldwide motorsports.
He tried so hard to win that race. It meant a lot for me to be able to help him accomplish that.
Q. One of the cool things about this win is that people are getting to know the real you and your family. Richard Childress said you were a student of the sport; you didn't just fall into a ride. Can you talk about being a student of the sport since you were like eight, riding around in the golf cart, but between then and now.
PAUL MENARD: Yeah, I mean, things are a lot different obviously now. But now it's kind of like part of what I do is being a student of the sport, where when I was a kid I was just a curious kid.
I tried to learn as much as I could about the IndyCars. As a kid, I was just in awe of seeing the cars, the drivers being at the Speedway. At one point I knew every single Indy 500 winner from 1911, Ray Harroun, all the way through the current year, to the early or mid '90s, memorized every aspect of the race.
But today it's different. Now it's a lot more technical obviously. I still love the history and everything of motorsports in general, from NASCAR, IndyCars, Formula One, USAC, everything. I'm still a big fan. Still try to absorb all that I can.
Q. The sense of you being quiet. Until you have something to talk about, a lot of drivers don't like to talk much unless they've got something big to talk about. Your mother said you probably won't stop talking now. I wonder if this does give you something more to let people know who you are, that you really are not that quiet because now you have something to talk about.
PAUL MENARD: Yeah, I mean, in our sport we work so hard on what's the job at hand, the task at hand. A lot of times you get the same questions. Gets a little bit old sometimes. You just kind of do your question and your answer, get on with it.
But this is definitely a special moment for me. Trying to absorb all that I can of it, just appreciate it as much as I can. If I talk a little bit more, then great. I'm just happy and privileged and honored to be a Brickyard 400 winner.
Q. Paul, some might say that you moved up the rankings under the radar. A closer look shows your team's steady progress. Do you have a comment on that?
PAUL MENARD: Yeah, I mean, we've had really fast racecars. Slugger does a good job every week just preparing racecars. The guys back at the shop. Rich Burgess is our shop foreman. He puts time in with everybody, the body shop, chassis shop on up.
We've had fast cars. We've had some races where we just flat struggled, missed it. But in trying to build that consistency week-to-week, it's been hard. That's what's hard about this sport, is there's no one clear leader every week. It's almost a new guy or a series of guys that are going to be fast. Everybody's got an off weekend. We just try to minimize ours as much as we can and go forward.
Q. What have you learned along the way that means the most to you in your racing experience?
PAUL MENARD: As far as racing in general?
PAUL MENARD: I mean, driving the cars and all that. Just be patient. It's so easy to - probably hard for you to believe - get excited and overdrive the car. The cars are very temperamental. They're a lot of fun to drive. They move around a lot. You have a ton of horsepower and skinny, narrow tires. It's really easy to overdrive these things.
Something I've learned in the past is give it what it will take. If it only takes half throttle at this point in the fuel run, just give it half throttle, try to get to wide open as soon as you can but without burning off the tires, little things like that.
Obviously communication with your crew chief is huge. Slugger and I have a great relationship. He gives me a window into what he's thinking, how these cars work. He's never driven anything. That's something he always says, I don't drive these things, I don't know. I try to explain to him what I'm feeling the best I can, help him understand what I am feeling and looking for.
Q. Paul, you had mentioned there are some good tracks for you and some tracks tough to win at. Looking ahead, you seem to run pretty well at Michigan International Speedway. That might be a good track to win at and put you in an excellent position. Can you explain why you have such a good feeling running at Michigan?
PAUL MENARD: Our intermediate track program, which is Michigan, California, Atlanta, Texas, Charlotte, we feel really good about that program. Michigan, we had awful racecars both races last year. Wound up driving the splitter off. This year we nailed everything and the car was really good. I don't think we fell out of the top 10 all day.
I've always enjoyed a track where the tires fall off, where on new tires you can haul ass, have a really good feeling, but as the run goes on, tires wear out, the times slow down, you slide around a lot more. Atlanta is a perfect example of that. Texas to some degree. I've always just kind of had a good feel for that and just enjoy it.
Michigan is definitely one of those tracks where the pace slows down. You have a lot of room to race. You can move around, run the top, middle, bottom, explore your options.
Q. Your relationship with Richard Childress, how does it differ from car owners you've been associated with in the past?
PAUL MENARD: I've been with DEI, Andy Petree started it all for me. We keep in touch. He's an animal. Went to DEI. Went to Doug Yates. That kind of merged into RPM. Now at RCR.
I see Richard every week. When I'm at the shop, I see him at the shop. Obviously, no dig on anybody, but I didn't see Teresa, Doug or Richard Petty at the shop.
My relationship with Richard Childress is a lot closer I think than what I've had with any other previous owner just from the sheer being accessible, talking to him, relating to him.
THE MODERATOR: We do appreciate your time today, Paul. Thank you for joining us and congratulations on your win this past weekend. Thank you to the media who were on today and cover us.
PAUL MENARD: Thanks.