Richard Childress Racing's Paul Menard is aiming for a spot in the Chase in 2012, having broken his duck on his 167th start at the Brickyard 400 last summer. The 31-year-old from Wisconsin joined fellow first time winners Trevor Bayne, Regan Smith, David Ragan, and Marcos Ambrose in 2011, and is hoping that despite RCR downsizing to just 3 full time cars in 2012, the continuity in his #27 team will work in his favour.
“Our realistic goal is to make the Chase,” he said. “We have the same group of guys from last year. We didn't see a need to make many changes on the team. Everybody's really happy. I come to the shop once or twice a week and see smiles on people's faces.”
“I've been racing for 25 years now. I've won at everything I've done. Obviously, as you get higher in the ranks, it gets more difficult. I wasn't sure if I'd ever win in Sprint Cup, but I sure as hell was going to try. It makes you hungry for that second one and that third one.”
Menard also scored a fourth place at Michigan, helping him to 17th in the standings, his best yet. He attracted controversy at Richmond after a dubious spun brought out a caution, allowing team-mate Kevin Harvick to snatch victory from Jeff Gordon, but has since put this behind him and is optimistic of a good start to the year.
“We had a really good test at Daytona, even in the single-car runs. We want to go down there and sit on the pole and see what happens.”
This year marks Menard's second at Richard Childress Racing and his third with crew chief Slugger Labbe.
“A year ago I was a new guy, but I felt like I'd been here for a long time,” Menard said.
“There were a lot of familiar faces from DEI that I had worked with. Having Slugger for a second year last year brought some familiarity. I just know everybody. I know how our system works. I know how everything operates. It makes me a little more comfortable.
“Slugger and I met at a coffee shop a couple of years ago. It was one of those 'How you doing' meetings. We thought it would be for about 45 minutes, but we sat there for two or three hours shooting the breeze. We talk every day, at least once a day. Our personalities are very different, but, at the same time, we're very similar. It works.”