A little food for thought: Paul Menard is coming off what could be considered his best career Sprint Cup season. He had career-bests in both top 5s (5) and top 10s (13), and while his points position was his lowest since 2010, the average finish was among the best of his career.
Menard isn’t going to win Richard Childress a Cup title, but what he will do in 2015 is what he has done for the last several years — give the team some strong finishes and bring good information to the table that can be used to help the organization move forward. Menard has the tendency to be a little streaky — he can reel off a string of top 10s followed by several mid-pack finishes — and overall, that’s not going to be championship material. Unlike his teammate Ryan Newman, Menard isn’t consistently strong enough to make a title run out of a season that doesn’t include a win.
That’s not to say Menard couldn’t have an outside chance at the Chase; however, it’s likely that he’ll need to win to do it, and the odds aren’t in his favor with just one Cup win to his name. He can be a threat at some tracks — 10 of his 13 top-10 finishes last season came at tracks 1.5 miles or longer — but it’s more likely that he’ll be more of a top-15 threat than a top-10 one. And with the field as stacked as it is, that’s not likely to make the cut.
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In Menard’s favor are solid equipment and sponsorship. While RCR might be a step behind the biggest teams, it is still among the sport’s elite, and Menard has equipment that matches his talent — not something every driver enjoys. He’s in a stable position in part because of his family-owned sponsorship, but he’s not merely riding the coattails of his family legacy. Because of that stability, Menard doesn’t have to look over his shoulder to see if a youngster with money is waiting in the wings, and he’s a solid enough performer that he’s an asset to RCR because of the information he can bring to the table.
His crew chief is a question mark for 2015. Justin Alexander took over head wrench duties after Slugger Labbe was promoted within the RCR organization. Alexander certainly has the credentials to be a successful crew chief, and Menard did post a top-5 finish during Alexander’s five-race test run in 2014, but this duo hasn’t been together long enough to be properly evaluated. Technology, more than ever, makes an impact
these days, and Alexander’s experience could move the needle.
Overall, expect 2015 to be a solid season for Menard, who has proven to be a steady driver. The biggest factor against him is probably the depth of competition in Sprint Cup right now. He’s capable of solid finishes, but so are many others, and that makes it unlikely that he will enjoy a season that exceeds expectations. He’ll put together some good runs, keep his cars in one piece and bring his team information it can use. All good things for a mid-tier driver like Menard.
No. 27 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet
Primary Sponsor: Menards
Owner: Richard Childress
Crew Chief: Justin Alexander
Year With Current Team: 5th
Under Contract Through: 2016
Best Points Finish: 16th (2012)
Hometown: Eau Claire, Wis.
Born: Aug. 21, 1980
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.