There’s a clear theme for Paul Menard’s second season at Wood Brothers Racing: Clean up the mistakes that hurt the No. 21 the most last year to put the team where it believes it should be. It’s a sensible plan of attack considering how a handful of bad moments limited Menard’s potential with a new, stronger team in 2018.
“We’ve had some pretty good flashes at times, but we need to be more consistent,” Menard says. “We definitely have something to build on, and we’re going to work hard on it over the winter.”
Menard delivered his best season by average finish since 2015 during his inaugural run with the WBR shop, which is tightly aligned with Team Penske. But unlike quasi-teammates Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano, Menard didn’t win a race or make the playoffs. In many ways, the No. 21 performed like a brand new team — because it essentially was. Blaney moved from the No. 21 to the No. 12 before last year and brought along crew chief Jeremy Bullins with much of his engineering team and pit crew. That moved Menard to a new organization with a new crew chief in Greg Erwin.
Changes that big in any NASCAR operation often result in unexpected issues. Menard’s issues manifested themselves in crashes, mechanical failures and “things we didn’t do well from the crew side,” Erwin says.
“It was a very different season for Paul,” Erwin says. “The positives were better, the speed was better when we were on the racetrack. But we just had too high of a combined total of things that happened.”
This season will be Erwin’s second back as a crew chief in the Cup garage. He had been working on Penske’s Xfinity Series programs in recent seasons, with his last full-time Cup experience coming with Greg Biffle and AJ Allmendinger back in 2011.
Menard arrived at WBR last season after a seven-year run at Richard Childress Racing. His history in the Cup series is one of a mid-tier driver with a career average finish of 20.5. But Menard has shown before that his ceiling is higher than what he achieved last year. In 2012, Menard delivered an average finish of 15.5 — a number that in 2018 would have had him ahead of three playoff drivers.
Erwin sees potential for Menard to deliver results similar to the other Penske cars in the new rules package NASCAR is implementing this season. Most races will feature cars with much higher drag and downforce while using less powerful engines.
“I know when we go [superspeedway] racing, and we all have the same stuff, we run right with our teammates or we lead them around there a lot,” Erwin says. “[Paul] does really good at that. But I won’t go as far as to say that California, and Vegas — certainly not Atlanta with its surface — I’m not gonna say that those tracks are gonna look like Daytona and Talladega. They’re gonna look a little more like the  All-Star race than a plate race.”
Menard finished third in the Monster Energy Open running the new package, just missing out on a transfer spot to the All-Star Race.
“I think on the aero side Paul does very well,” Erwin says. “So, I think that could be a benefit to us in the big scheme of things. We’ll just have to see.”
Vegas Betting Odds to win 2019 Cup Championship: 100/1 (per Sportsbook.ag)