Menard's Soft-Spoken Success

Paul Menard

Paul Menard's fifth-place finish Sunday at Sonoma proved significant for many reasons. (Photo: Getty Images)

SONOMA, Calif. - Paul Menard won’t boast, won’t shout, heck, he might not even raise his tranquil voice about what he did Sunday. Or what he’s doing this season.

While Carl Edwards celebrated his first win at a road course, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rejoiced in his first top-10 at Sonoma Raceway, Menard achieved a significant accomplishment. Actually, he reached more than one milestone.

Do you know what they were?

If you don’t, it’s understandable. Self-promotion is not one of Menard’s cornerstones. So someone else will have to tell you.

Sunday’s fifth-place finish at Sonoma marked his best result at the track. It also was the first time in his Sprint Cup career he’s scored back-to-back top-five finishes - he placed fourth at Michigan the week before. And, he has nine top-10 finishes this season, equaling his career best and 20 races remain.

Oh, and there’s this: Sunday’s run marked the fifth time this season Menard has equaled or bettered his previous best finish at a track.

It leads to the question of if Menard will make the Chase for the first time in eight Cup seasons. He’s 12th in points with 10 races left until the field is set but doesn’t have a win.

Menard and crew chief Slugger Labbe are finding a combination that gives them solid finishes. Many of Menard’s stronger runs this season have taken place on 1.5- or 2-mile tracks. That could be a good sign heading into Saturday night’s race at Kentucky Speedway, a 1.5-mile speedway.

While the performance is a step forward for Menard and his team, there remains a gap between the top teams and his. One gauge - beyond wins and top-five finishes - is laps led. Each of the season’s 10 winners have led more laps than Menard. He ranks 16th in the series in laps led with 45, which is ahead of teammates Ryan Newman (10 laps led) and Austin Dilllon (three).

Mike Dillon, vice president of competition, recently said that a focus for the organization was the need to lead more laps. The team tested at Pocono earlier this year, preparing for that track and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Richard Childress Racing also is scheduled to test next week at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

As the organization searches for more speed, there is something else to note about Menard’s performance. He’s carrying this momentum into summer.

It’s not uncommon for Menard to start the season well - this year was the first time in five seasons he was not in the top 10 in points by the fourth race.

Typically, Menard has cooled after early success. This season, he was 17th in points after the fourth race with only one top-10 finish at the time.

Menard persevered with a workmanlike style.

“You show up and do your job as hard as you can,’’ he said in describing his approach a couple of seasons ago.

In that manner, Menard should a favorite of the workingman. Although some will point toward his family’s fortune with the Menards stores, Menard does his job, avoids the spotlight and pushes forward. As for the criticism that family money has fueled his career, Menard said after his Brickyard 400 win in 2011: “Can’t change people’s opinions. They’re going to say what they want to say. That’s fine with me.’’

That’s how he handles such things. He lets others talk while he focuses on what’s ahead. Maybe that’s why there’s little to say because he has something else to focus on. Whatever he, Labbe and the team are doing, they’re on pace for their best season together.  

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