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So Far, The New Guy Is The Top Guy At RCR

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 5 2011

So far, so good for Paul Menard in his new job at Richard Childress Racing. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Paul Menard has been a bit of a racing wanderer. Four Sprint Cup teams in eight Sprint Cup seasons. But from the sound of it, Menard’s wandering days are over.

He has landed with one of the top teams in the series and the dividends – the kind of dividends which can spawn root-taking by the most wandering of wanderers – are already beginning to materialize.

“We’ve had a good start to the season,” Menard said. “Daytona went really well for us. We came out of there with a ninth-place finish and we were disappointed with that. We had a really fast car down there. Phoenix we had a good car again. Got some damage early in the race. Go the toe knocked out, had some tire wear issues from there on, that hurt us at the end of the day. Just proud of the way a brand new race team is coming together.”

That brand new race team is a Richard Childress Racing team. Menard, after spending the 2009 and 2010 seasons with Richard Petty Motorsports’ Ford team, is now driving a Chevrolet for an organization which put all three of its drivers into last year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.

RCR’s Kevin Harvick led the series in points much of the season and finished third in the final standings. Teammate Clint Bowyer won two races in the Chase in 2010.

Team owner Richard Childress, whose previous attempt to field four cars did not go very well, opted to give four another try when Menard became available for this season.

It didn’t hurt that Menard came with his own sponsor – Wisconsin-based Menard’s hardware stores – but sponsorship is not all that is needed hook up with a team like RCR. Childress wants winners.

Paul Menard has been top hand for Richard Childress so far this season. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Menard has shown steady growth as a driver over the last couple of years and that was the foundation of the deal, Childress said.

“Paul has developed into a very good race-car driver, and we see his move to RCR … as an opportunity for him to continue that progress,” Childress said when he decided to hire Menard last August. “At the same time, we feel Paul will contribute to the continued progress and success of RCR.

“Paul will fit in perfectly with our team of drivers at RCR, and they are all looking forward to working with him. We’re also very proud to be aligned with Menards, one of the great family business success stories in American history.”

The new season and new situation has started well for Menard. He finished ninth after leading 11 laps in the Daytona 500. He finished 17th a week ago at Phoenix.

He is 11th in points heading into Sunday’s Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. That is the best position of the four RCR drivers.

“They build me really nice looking, beautiful race cars,” Menard said Friday. “They are fast. We have awesome horsepower. Just looking forward to get the ball rolling here with the season.”

Crew chief Slugger Labbe came along with Menard from RPM. So did several other of Menard’s crew members.

That has eased the transition, Menard – whose father John Menard was owner of an IndyCar Series team – said.

“Slugger coming over is a huge deal obviously,” he said. “He has assembled a group of a couple of guys that were with me last year and a lot of guys that he has worked with in the past and people that he is familiar with. It is a really good group of guys. So far this year we’ve gone out to dinner at some point every weekend and everybody just gets along really well and it is cool to see.”

Still, Menard and his boys are the new guys among three other teams at RCR which have been together since 2005.

So, any problems with things like chemistry? None, he said. On the contrary, in fact.

“Being the new team, being the new guys on the block, it is cool that they respect us and want to learn some things,” Menard said. “Obviously we go right back to them with questions we have for them. Some things that worked for us last year aren’t going to work this year and we are going to have to learn these new cars. It is a totally different chassis and just trying to work through some things.

“We struggled a little bit this first practice trying to do somethings we did last year and it hasn’t worked the same. We are learning these cars as we go. I’ve been really well received in the whole group and that’s neat for me personally and professionally. Same with Slugger, he fits right in with Gil (Martin, Harvick’s crew chief) and Todd (Berrier, Burton’s crew chief) and Shane (Bowyer’s crew chief) there, so it has been really good.”

Menard qualified 18th for Sunday’s race. Again, best of the RCR bunch.

But can he finish that way?

“We are at a totally different type of race track here in Vegas,” Menard said. But, “So far, so good.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 5 2011
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