Paul Menard, driver of the No. 98 Nibco/Menards Ford Fusion, maintained his ninth-place position in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings after last week's race at Bristol. Menard, who has five career Martinsville starts, spoke about his...
Paul Menard, driver of the No. 98 Nibco/Menards Ford Fusion, maintained his ninth-place position in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings after last week's race at Bristol. Menard, who has five career Martinsville starts, spoke about his hopes for this weekend.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR YEAR SO FAR? "Like Greg said, our cars are driving better this year than what we had last year and it's shown for all eight Fords in our camp. It's been good. Last week at Bristol we had another good car. We ran around 10th all day long and, at one point, thought we were gonna pull out another top 10 and just put two tires on at the end and lost a lot of ground. I'm just really pleased with the effort of everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports and under the Ford Racing banner. We've made big gains, but the hard work is still in front of us and we just have to keep on digging."
WHY HAS YOUR TEAM PERFORMED SO WELL WITH A NEW CREW CHIEF IN SLUGGER LABBE AND HOW DO YOU KEEP IT GOING? "Slugger and I have a good relationship. We talk a lot during the week and I feel like our communication is really good on race weekends - as good or better than any I've had in the past. Our getting-to-know each other period is over for sure, but we got up to speed pretty quick on that. If he wants more info from me, he'll ask more questions and try to get more depth, and I've got some good understanding of what he's trying to accomplish in different simulation programs and setups. That's all good and I feel like we've had a good run so far and we're gonna continue to improve. Knock on wood, we've been out of trouble in the first five races. Martinsville is a big bullet, and then Talladega coming up is another big bullet to dodge, but we've had fast cars and that makes my job easier."
HAS HE PUSHED YOU IN WAYS TO GET YOUR PERFORMANCE UP? "He's a competitive guy for sure, and he's an emotional guy, too. When he gets mad, I know I better do something to make him happy. Luckily, our personal relationship is good and our professional relationship is good. We know our boundaries, but this is an emotional sport. We can get on each other's butt and still be friends at the end of the day."
SEVERAL DRIVERS HAVE TALKED ABOUT HOW HARD IT IS TO RACE FROM 20TH ON BACK. HAVE YOU NOTICED A DIFFERENCE RUNNING UP FRONT? "Yeah, it's always been a black and white situation. When you're running at Bristol or a place like here, when you're running 10th or 15th and you get side-by-side with somebody, somebody is gonna give up and let the other guy go just so you can maintain your track position and not lose too much ground to the leaders. When you're 25th and the leader is coming, you want to put as many cars behind you and between you as possible, so there's a lot less give-and-take, and they just race a lot harder."
HOW DOES BEING IN BETTER CARS THIS YEAR HELP YOU BUILD YOUR CONFIDENCE? "Every race car driver pushes themselves 100 percent, whether you're running 35th or fifth, so, for me, that's no different. I'm driving the same way and we just have resources and tools and teammates and a lot of smart people I can lean on, and everybody on the 98 team leans on, to make good decisions and go forward. We're all competitors and nobody wants to lay down and give a half-hearted effort. Everyone wants to give 100 percent and do the best job they feel they can personally."
HOW ARE YOUR SETUPS DIFFERENT THIS YEAR? "I can't tell you that (laughing). There are things we've learned, but there are things we know other people are doing that we're trying to improve on also. It's a work in progress. Somebody is gonna find the next hot thing and everybody is gonna go for that, and then somebody else is gonna find the next one."
HAVE YOU FOUND THE NEXT HOT THING? "No. Last year, the Yates camp and the Roush Fenway camp, at this time last year we were struggling bad, so you're trying to find that next hot thing and it might not be there. This year, we're just kind of going back to basics and getting solid cars built at the shop and trusting the simulation programs while taking the common knowledge that we know has worked in the past and just apply it and try to improve on it."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON TALLADEGA IN A FEW WEEKS? "Where we ended the test two weeks ago, the cars drove about how they did last fall, so you'll see the same racing - big packs. We can run three-wide very comfortably. We can run four-wide a little uncomfortably, but we can make it happen. The cars probably suck up a little bit better with the spoiler. NASCAR put a smaller plate on from where we unloaded and made a smaller spoiler to try to keep the guy in front from being a sitting duck. When we had the big plates on and the big spoiler, whoever was leading at the last lap was not gonna win the race. Now, you've got a shot at winning the race."
HOW MUCH OF YOUR SUCCESS ARE YOU CONTRIBUTING TO CONFIDENCE? "I'm not so sure it's confidence as it is just knowing how the car should drive, knowing what a top-10 car feels like and just striving to get to that point. It's a week-by-week situation. The kind of cool thing this year is if we unload and we're not happy with the car at Bristol, we struggled in Saturday's practice, but made some big changes and got the car driving better. The car reacts to changes and, like I said, Slugger and I have had communication that's been good enough to where we can work on improving the race cars. At Atlanta, we unloaded and were really fast and didn't have to do a whole lot to the car, so each week is different. It's just a matter of how you improve your race car to the conditions."
IS THERE A TRACK YOU ARE LOOKING AT AND FEEL LIKE IF YOU GET THROUGH IT, THEN THINGS ARE GOING TO GO REALLY WELL THIS YEAR? "I've had decent runs here in Martinsville, a couple top-20s and solid finishes, and if we get a solid finish out here, then we've dodged a bullet. Talladega is another big one. We go to Phoenix and Texas and I feel pretty good on those tracks. I've won the race at Phoenix before in different divisions, and we've had good runs before at Texas so I'm looking forward to those tracks. Every week is a new challenge, but it's hard work trying to give 100 percent all the time. It makes for a long season, but that's what everyone does and that's what we do."
-source: ford racing