COMMENTARY | Paul Menard may be an heir to a massive fortune, his father being a billionaire and all, but it's not something you could guess by the way he acts.
Menard seems genuinely down-to-earth, and doesn't display that sort of better-than attitude many people with that kind of money often have.
Having money as a background is helpful for getting a ride (bringing a sponsor with you is a nice thing to bring to the negotiation table), but it also comes with a negative side: People saying you don't deserve to be in a ride.
They call you unworthy, say you bought the ride and didn't earn it, etc. This is the type of attack people regularly throw at Menard.
Richard Childress doesn't see it that way. He signed Menard to a new three-year deal this week, and likes what he sees in this young man. The 2011 Brickyard 400 winner will be around the RCR organization for a while, and with that comes expectations. Sure, that Brickyard win was awesome, but it's long been forgotten by fans. They want to see Menard do something good now, or the "daddy's money" comments will continue until he does something to put an end to them.
The critics have some good points to make about Menard. Since that Brickyard win (in a year with a ton of first-time winners), he only has one top-5 finish to his name. Hardly stellar numbers. Menard recognizes this, and knows he has something to prove in the coming years.
'There isn't a driver in the garage who is satisfied with how they prove themselves. They are always trying to get better and trying to do more," Menard told reporters this week at Charlotte after the contract extension was announced. "RCR is the place where I won my first race at the Cup level. That's always going to be special, obviously; but it's a place where I feel like we can win more. It's a comfortable place. It's a great place to work."
Menard's finishes still aren't superb, but he's staying on the lead lap and becoming more of a consistent site higher up in the running order each week. Menard said that's because the team is focused on getting his team's performance better each week.
"Richard (Childress) has put a lot of resources into getting better and it's showing," he said. "It might not be as visual to you guys (the media), but being inside the company it's pretty visible. It's exciting to be a part of it."
Looking at RCR, the future is uncertain to some extent. Harvick is leaving along with some sponsors, Jeff Burton is running OK this year but is near the end of his career and won't be driving for much longer, and then there's Menard. He's the consistent element here, and will have to emerge as a team leader and improve his overall performance if RCR wants to continue to have cars out front next year and into the future. Austin Dillon will likely be the third driver (probably driving a No. 3 car for RCR for the first time since Dale Earnhardt died), but he'll just be a rookie looking for advice from his teammates -- and Menard needs to be able to help him out.
If Paul Menard can continue improving and come on strong late this year and into next season, start to rattle off top-5 finishes and contend for wins, he'll have plenty of ammunition to counter the "daddy's money" crowd, and RIchard Childress will be seen as a very smart man for holding on to Menard.
But if the opposite happens and he tanks, Menard's critics will have all the more reason to say he doesn't belong in a Cup ride. It appears 2014 will be a big year for Menard, one way or another -- it would be a real positive story to see him come through with strong results and emerge as a strong contender and team leader at RCR.
Matt Myftiu lives in Michigan, has been a walking encyclopedia of NASCAR since immersing himself in the sport over 15 years ago, and has worked as a journalist for two decades. His blog on the sport, NASCAR: Beyond the Track, has been published by The Oakland Press for the past 5 years. Follow him on Twitter @MattMyftiu
- Sports & Recreation
- Motor Racing
- Paul Menard
- Richard Childress