Paul Menard has spent most of his career as a punch line, a "daddy's-money" driver slagged off as a guy who only got his seat because of his DNA -- and his connection to that sweet, sweet Menards revenue stream. In his two full seasons prior to this one, he finished 31st and 26th. Not so great.
But this year, things started to turn around. He ran well early in the season, then faltered -- often hard -- as the year went on. Coming into the Chase, he had five straight worse-than-20th finishes. And the news recently that he was joining Richard Childress Racing seemed, more than ever, to be money-driven alone.
Hang on, though. In Dover, he finished seventh, and this week in Kansas, he finished eighth. That ain't bad, and it added to his ongoing career-best total of five top 5s. (He had two in his entire career prior to this year.)
Menard qualified second, but quickly slid down into the middle of the pack, as you can see by his race chart. But a key pit call later in the race changed everything for Menard. With about a hundred laps remaining, he took two tires when most of the field took four, and immediately leaped up to the top of the field. He ran in the top 10 for most of the rest of the way, even leading 11 laps, and finished with one of his better days of the season.
So here's the question: How good a driver is Menard? Will he run even better with the backing of RCR behind him next year? Regardless, he's doing everything he can to get the "daddy's money" label off his back.
But just his back, mind you -- he'll definitely be keeping the Menards logo across his chest for the foreseeable future, thank you very much.
- Paul Menard