After completing his Raybestos Rookie season in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition, Paul Menard happily returns to Daytona this week to commence the 2008 race season. Contrary to the challenges faced last season, which included having to race his way...
After completing his Raybestos Rookie season in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition, Paul Menard happily returns to Daytona this week to commence the 2008 race season. Contrary to the challenges faced last season, which included having to race his way into the first 19 races of the year, Menard is safely locked in the field for the 50th running of the Daytona 500. With the backing of his sponsors, the sophomore competitor in the Dale Earnhardt Inc. camp is ready to make his mark on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
"Ultimately my goal for this year is to make the chase," Menard said when asked about his expectations for the season ahead. "But we're going to take it one step at a time. I'm looking forward to running the new COT's DEI has built at the intermediate tracks, I think we've learned a few key things this off season to make our COT program even better than it was last year."
While his 2007 season didn't meet his expectations, Menard was hopeful for what's to come in his second full year of Sprint Cup competition.
"Usually you hear more of the "sophomore slump". Martin and Clint proved that wrong last year." Menard reasoned. "We're in a position, the Menards 15 Team that is, to improve. As long as we're showing improvement each week, we'll be there right with the rest of the teams."
Improvement is a team effort and this year Menard's team will be led by new crew chief, Doug Randolph.
"Our first step has been getting our lines of communication (driver, crew chief, team, teammates, engineering) open and working." Randolph said. "The road crew has undergone some changes. The pit crew that was good is getting better each day. We are trying to build some momentum in the off season that we can carry into the first few races."
Randolph is also quick to cite the first five races as an opportunity to establish the team in terms of the points.
"For 2008 our first goal is to finish in the top 20 in the first five races." Randolph said. "This will establish us a secure spot in the points. Then our next goal is to start consistently start finishing with some top 10's. We want to win a race in 2008. If we can reach these goals, this would allow us to finish inside the top 20 in points. These goals give us a direction and starting place, however as we start reaching these goals we strive to surpass them."
For Menard, this is a time to prove himself among the Cup Series elite.
"I guess I'm a "veteran" now, having been to all of the tracks before," Menard said. "Really, though, everyone at this level has so much experience in so many different types of vehicles that everyone is a veteran in their own regard and I'm just hoping to make my mark in the sport."
While the team is focused on finding success at a variety of tracks, they will focus their pre season testing efforts on the NASCAR sanctioned tracks at Daytona, Las Vegas Motor Speedway and California Speedway.
"As of right now, there are no tests scheduled outside our several upcoming NASCAR tests," Randolph added. "In addition to Daytona, NASCAR has given us a great opportunity to test at two very different intermediate style racetracks and that's what we're focused on right now."
Menard and the entire No. 15 team will be in attendance for the second session of Cup testing at Daytona International Speedway beginning today and running through Wednesday, January 16th. The test will be the first full NASCAR test of the car of tomorrow at Daytona and will be followed by NASCAR sanctioned tests at California and Las Vegas.