Paul Menard, driver of the #27 Menards Chevrolet, was the guest on the NASCAR media teleconference this week. Menard, currently sitting 15th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings, talked about the his win last year at Indianapolis, his odds of making the Chase, and sponsorships, among other things. Below is the transcript from that teleconference.
THE MODERATOR: Welcome to today’s NASCAR CAM Video teleconference with Paul Menard, driver of the No. 27 Menards Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing.
Paul earned his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory last season at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Heading into the next NASCAR race series on July 29th at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Paul currently sits 15th in the points standings with four Top-10s. Paul will also pilot the No. 33 Rheem / Menards Chevrolet in the inaugural NASCAR Nationwide Series race on at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday, July 28.
Paul, you had a huge win last year at the Brickyard 400. What are your team’s expectations going into next weekend’s race? Do you think you can repeat your win there?
PAUL MENARD: We are going to try like hell to. We were fortunate enough to win the race last year and kiss the bricks, and like to do that again, for sure. We have to get better as a team. We are sitting 15th in points, lost a few spots last week, but in order to contend for race wins, we have got to get better and we all understand that and we are all working hard towards it.
Pocono and Indy are very similar, had a good run, qualified third and finished ninth at Pocono and a lot of those things translate back over to Indy.
I look forward to going to Indy. We are bringing a new car. It’s one that we ran at Richmond but we wrecked it, broke the throttle and wrecked the car. This will be the first true test of this new car and it’s been a pretty good one so far. So hopefully all goes well and we can repeat.
Q. With your history at the Brickyard and it being such a big deal for your first win, what have you done with the trophy? Are there any special keepsakes you got for the win? Do you have a shrine you’ve erected just to celebrate just a big deal?
PAUL MENARD: Well, I’ve got the trophy in a spot right between my bedroom and the kitchen, so I walk by it a dozen times a day at least. Always reminded of that. Got a lot of little things, pictures, a fan at a Menards store a couple of months back gave me some T-shirts from the race, from the inaugural race in 1994, up to last year’s race. Little keepsakes like that.
A lady built me a quilt, it’s a huge quilt, that I’ve got in our living room down stairs. Just a bunch of things that it’s not really well organized, a lot of pictures, some montages and stuff, but got a little bit here and there throughout the house. A lot of reminders every day for sure.
Q. Indy is such a big deal and drivers have been able to repeat; I know you talked about where you guys are and how you need to be running, but what’s it like at the shop right now? Obviously you’ve got a little extra time and have had a little extra time to prepare for this one, but, does everything sort of elevate itself, the intensity around the shop, to get you guys back to victory lane in this one?
PAUL MENARD: Yeah, for sure but it’s no different than any week. RCR as a whole has run competitively this year but we need to get better to make the next step up, everywhere from Kevin and myself and Jeff, across the board, and we have been doing some testing, trying to develop some new ideas and theories to get better, and really this week is no different.
My guys put their all into our race cars every week, and this car, we have kind of held back running it after it showed a lot of promise at Richmond before the throttle broke and wrecked the car. But we hung on to that and made it our Indy car, and just looking forward to getting back out there.
The off-week is nice to catch up, but a lot of guys are taking the time off to catch up with family more than anything. We are pretty far ahead in the shop and things are going well.
Q. Wanted to talk about your status, a lot of consistency running in the top 20s, but is it time now with seven races before the Chase that you have to push it down and get a win?
PAUL MENARD: Yeah, for sure. If we are going to make the Chase, we have to win at least a race.
Right now we are 15th in points, dropped a few spots last week. We are 15th in points and that are guys behind us but they are essentially ahead of us because they have race wins and are in the Top-20. In order to leapfrog those guys, we have to get one win, would make us feel a lot better.
In order to do that we have to take more risks; if it comes to fuel mileage at the end, maybe gamble a little bit to stretch the mileage out. We are working hard on improving the race cars every week.
That’s a big part of it, too, just putting yourself in contention of winning. If you run Top-10, especially Top-5, you can put yourself in position to win.
Q. Can you talk a little about last year, I know I caught up with you in Chicago in September, but just this thrill of that moment of coming down the final stretch there, the final turn, and taking a checkered flag, one year later, what does it mean for you?
PAUL MENARD: It’s neat to go back. I have not been back to the Speedway since then. Every time since I was a little kid rebound every time I go through the tunnel and turns one and two, I get goosebumps. That will be no different.
But looking forward to revisiting the track, and we have the Haulers around, the Haulers Parade on Thursday night and I’ll get the winner’s ring from last year. So a lot of neat things going on this weekend for sure.
But more importantly, just looking forward to getting back on the track and driving around the Brickyard.
Q. Have you had much chance in the last year to reflect, reminisce with your family, specifically with your dad, about how great it is to get a victory at Indianapolis?
PAUL MENARD: A little bit. I mean, we are a family that we look forward a lot. We enjoy our moments. We enjoyed the moment last year but we have been looking forward to this year, and I got to go home for about a week or two over Christmas and see the family, and we talked about it somewhat but mostly we were just working as a race team trying to get better this year.
What happened last year was great, and I’ll always cherish it. I have a lot of memorabilia from it. But the time now is to work on this year.
Q. You mentioned you had a week off, is this like a great time, with so many obligations coming up in the next week and a half before the race as the defending champ, is your team excited, almost like you can push a reset button and get excited for next week?
PAUL MENARD: Yeah, I mean, my guys work so hard every week. Doesn’t matter if it’s Brickyard or New Hampshire or wherever we go. They all pay the same amount of points, and points is what drives the sport, and race wins, they all pay the same.
You put the same amount of preparation in every week, but this being an off weekend, it gives the guys a little time to recharge their batteries and get a few days off to spend time with their families and kids and wife and everything. By the time next Thursday roles around when we head up to Indy and we’ll be ready to go.
Q. Did you watch the wins pile up so many drivers, 12 different drivers now that have wins in the Cup Series; did that surprise you were you watching that?
PAUL MENARD: We watch it every week. Last year I think we tied a record for most different winners. This year, I don’t think we’ll get to there but we’re pretty close.
You said there have been 12 different winners this year; I’d like to be the 13th different winner this year, and just going to keep trying to do that.
Like I said before, in order to make the Chase, you have to win a race, and more than likely, you have to win two races, and that’s what we are trying to accomplish.
Q. Also you mentioned the special feeling that you have for the Brickyard. Do you have any kind of a special routine before you get in a car during that race?
PAUL MENARD: No, Indy is typically the hottest race, with the heat and the humidity, especially, it’s always hot in Indianapolis in July.
But I do nothing different there than I do any other race, just hydrate properly. And I think Friday night we are going to take the guys out to dinner, we have a steakhouse in downtown Indy that is kind of our traditional stop that we go to every year. But outside of that, we don’t really do anything different.
Q. In practice they talk about tire compounds; how much does going to a track with a different tire compound than the one you used last year affect the drivers?
PAUL MENARD: It seems everything we do with the chassis, set up, is to maximize the tires. And when they change the tires on us, it changes everything, from your bump stop settings to springs to shocks. So everything we do is driven by the tire. So when they change the tire, obviously it’s a huge deal.
I’m not sure which one we’ll have this weekend. My engineers, they have been working on it for months, literally. And they have different feels, too, that a driver looks for; a harder tire, softer construction is a little different than a softer compound and a harder construction.
So there’s a ton of combinations that Goodyear uses, and we won’t truly know how this tire combination feels on this racetrack until we go out there.
Q. Winning at Indianapolis last year, will there be anything you do differently before the race next week, like on Sunday?
PAUL MENARD: No. No, I don’t think so. I haven’t seen my schedule for Sunday, anyway. I know Thursday night, we are going to do the Haulers Parade and lead the Haulers around the racetrack. Get to do another little victory lap there before the weekend begins but as far as Sunday goes, I don’t think anything out of the normal.
Q. You mentioned the need for improvement; how close do you think you are to where you want to be?
PAUL MENARD: You know, it depends, week-to-week. Last weekend, New Hampshire, it’s been probably my worst track on the schedule. We came away from there with a 17th-place finish.
So got to improve on that, the short tracks, the flat tracks, the flat short tracks have been kind of our Achilles heel. The intermediates, the big flat tracks, Indy, Pocono, Michigan, Texas, places like that have been kind of our strong suit.
If we can conquer — if we can get better at the short tracks, the flat short tracks, the Phoenix, New Hampshire, I think we’ll just be that much better off in the long run and the big picture of the season.
Q. With the drivers needing to win to get the wild card now, and you being the defending champion, do you feel confident coming into Indy that you can get the wild card? And do you put any added pressure on yourself winning here last year and being so strong?
PAUL MENARD: Obviously like to repeat. That one win would go a long ways for the wild card.
It’s competitive every week — look at Tony Stewart, for example, a couple races where he dominated last year and he’s ran in the 20s this year. We found that last year, Michigan comes to mind, Bristol we ran the Top-5 all day, came away with Top-5 finishes and go back a couple of months later and we are running in the teens.
The series is so competitive, that we go into this week as the defending race winner, but you can’t go in there expecting to win. You need to do the best job you can to hope to win and put yourself in position to win. You know, everybody catches up with you pretty quick.
I think that we have had fast cars at Indy, at Pocono, which is kind of a similar track, and I feel confident going into it for sure. I don’t think I’ll put any extra pressure on myself to repeat outside of just going out there and doing what we do every week to try to get the best finish we do at any track we go to.
Q. And since the Brickyard’s inception in 1994, only Jeff Gordon, Johnson, Stewart, Jarrett, Dario, Helio and Wheldon have won at the Speedway multiple times. What would it mean for you to win here again and be with those names in history that have won multiple times?
PAUL MENARD: It would be huge. For me personally, the Brickyard 400 is the biggest race that we go to. And I know for the sport, Daytona is considered the Super Bowl, but for me personally, there’s no race I would rather win than the Brickyard 400, and to be a two-time winner there would be even better yet.
Q. What’s your favorite childhood memory, since you used to come with your dad a lot to the 500 a lot in the month of May, what was your favorite memory as a child?
PAUL MENARD: I used to get out of school. When we ran the IndyCar team, we only ran the one race, Indianapolis. So Goodyear and Firestone, depending on which tire manufacturer was building tires at the time, would come to us to do tire testing for the Speedway.
So we do a lot of tire testing throughout the year. I get out of school once in awhile, maybe a couple of times a year, to go attend a tire test at Indy.
You know, the race weekends are great, but the tire tests were better yet, because I could actually be right next to the car, understand what they are doing. You know, everything is quiet and they are just going about their business, and you can go to different corners and really watch the car, understand it. I thought the coolest thing was being that much closer to the cars, and a little bit of a less-pressure situation.
Q. Wondering if the aerodynamic changes to the car this year, will it have a bigger impact at Indianapolis than other places?
PAUL MENARD: Yeah, the faster you can go, the more impact it will have. We had the side skirt changes at Pocono, and it’s hard to compare Pocono this year versus last year with the repave. But obviously every track we have gone to since they have trimmed the side skirts, it’s made a difference.
We did a tire test at New Hampshire a couple months ago right when the rule came out. So we ran around a flat, one-mile track with our side skirts to the ground, and then we trimmed it per the rule and it was a solid tenth slower. And the faster you go, the more that’s going to escalate.
I’m not sure if it’s going to make the racing any better or worse, but it will just take some grip away from the cars, which probably isn’t a bad thing.
Q. When you were at Roush, did you work at all with Chad Norris, and if you did, can you tell us about what he’s like?
PAUL MENARD: I don’t know Chad that well. I mean, he was a car chief on one of the Nationwide cars and took over as a crew chief on a Nationwide car but I don’t know him that well. Everything I’ve heard, though, he’s a great guy and he’s been there for a long time. I think that him and Carl are pretty tight and I think they will be just fine.
Q. Let’s look ahead and say you get the win at Indy and after that you race at Pocono and then Watkins Glen and Michigan. Now, out of those three tracks, do you feel you have more confidence because you like one or two of those tracks?
PAUL MENARD: Indy is my favorite track, and obviously we won there last year, and so we have high expectations going into Indy. Pocono, we have run well at in the past. We have run well at Michigan. Watkins again has been a bit of a trouble. Had a good run and blew a tire.
I feel confident on all four of those tracks. Of the four, you know, historically, probably run the best at Pocono. And Pocono and Indy are very similar, so I would take the first two and then work on the third and fourth after that.
Q. With all of the sponsorship woes lately in NASCAR, what does it mean to you to be able to carry the Menard banner in Cup?
PAUL MENARD: We’re a racing family. My father’s been involved in motorsports since before I was born, and I think if I didn’t do this, we’d still be involved in motorsports just as heavily today as we would be if I wasn’t doing this.
So it comes with its struggles for sure, but if things don’t go well, you can go talk to the family and kind of let them understand what’s going on whereas some other people might not have that ability to go and be able to talk about their business.
Q. How difficult is it to go from a small track to a big track?
PAUL MENARD: On a week-to-week basis, it’s really not that difficult. We go from intermediate track to a road course to a short track like Bristol or somewhere, Bristol, Watkins Glen, Pocono, they all kind of line up.
It’s not that difficult really. We have all been doing this so long, most of us have a ton of laps at these tracks. You get in Friday morning and it comes right back to you, and you look at your notes throughout the week and the kind of issues you fought the previous time you’re there. Come Friday morning, you’re ready to go.
Q. Ryan Blaney is going for a couple of races for Penske Racing. Maybe talk about some of the pressures of being a young driver driving for a big team?
PAUL MENARD: He’s shown a ton of speed. Obviously he’s run in three Nationwide races and I think he finished seventh in his first one. He’s shown a ton of speed. I know Darlington was disappointing for him and for Dave going out, I think it was the first lap or second lap. But that just shows that his aggressiveness, he expects himself to do well.
I think that he’ll excel at Penske. It’s a great opportunity and I know, knowing Roger the way I do, he’s going to kind of take him under his wing and give him some time to grow. Honestly, I think Ryan is good enough where he’s going to be right up to speed right away.
THE MODERATOR: Paul, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today.