[The Marbles occasionally posts articles from readers on matters of NASCAR interest, and today is one of those days. Michael Acosta, aka "TimidObserver," offers up this take on one of NASCAR's more unappreciated drivers. --JB]
"You can have your father buy your ride and write DEI a big check, but you can't buy talent. And that's what John Menard's been good at his whole life, is just buying success. He's bought his son a Nextel Cup ride and he's just got enough talent to just be in the way most of the time." --- Tony Stewart, after getting into Paul Menard on pit road in Fall 2007 Charlotte Cup race
Tony Stewart's sentiment is the same amongst pretty much all NASCAR fans and drivers. I'm no different; just last year I was wondering when NASCAR can get rid of Paul Menard before he gets someone killed out there. But as with any true enemy, you first have to respect them and acknowledge them. I've done both with Menard, and my findings recently indicate that maybe, just maybe, we're wrong about him.
So where do we place blame for Menard's lack of success? The driver? Paul started out just like Jamie McMurray: racing go-karts before 10. At 8 he won the Briggs Junior Karting Class Championship in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He then began ice racing at the age of 15 and won 10 International Ice Racing Association events in his career.
In 2001, he ran a limited ARCA schedule and still finished 13th in points. As a truck driver he's run 6 races with one top 10, so he's no truck guy. From 2003 until now in the Nationwide Series, he's had 1 win, 39 top 10s and 2 Nationwide poles, so maybe he's mediocre on the Nationwide circuit.
In Cup, he started in 2003 and has won no races but notched 2 top 10s and 1 pole (at Daytona in 2008). Last year he started out by wrecking at Daytona and finishing 37th at Fontana. This year he finished 6th at Daytona and 19th at Fontana in Nationwide, and 13th at Daytona, then 18th at Fontana in Cup. That's not great, but it is an undeniable improvement.
As for his teams, Menard has run with Dale Earnhardt Inc., Yates Racing, and Richard Petty Motorsports. Richard Petty may have been one of the greatest Cup drivers ever, but his shop has never won a championship with anybody but himself. Elliott Sadler and A.J. Allmendinger may be notable drivers, but whatever successes they've had in Cup have been slim. Kasey Kahne is a much more successful driver, but across 6 years he's won only 11 races. The man is definitely a major talent and should've won a lot more races, but his problem is the same as everyone else's at RPM: subpar equipment across the organization.
Yates Racing, on the other hand, used to be a fairly top-notch team, fielding great cars for guys like Davey Allison, Ernie Irvan, Dale Jarrett, and yes, even David Gilliland. Gilliland was in the same position as Menard: he had great equipment but he never quite ‘fit' with his cars. Dale Earnhardt Inc. has had some success, placing Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. in the Chase over the years, but the success hasn't been the sustained kind.
Could Menard have placed better at either Daytona or Fontana with a better team? Almost certainly yes. Menard's drawbacks have more than likely been the teams he drives with. The man is a good driver. Not a great driver, but certainly a good driver. We've seen bad drivers run top-notch equipment to top 20's and thought they were great, but they didn't last long. Menard may have lasted long just because of Daddy Warbucks, but the skill is showing in his taking lackluster equipment to top 20 performances.
Should Roush Fenway Racing, Haas, Richard Childress, Michael Waltrip, or even Red Bull take a chance with Paul Menard? I say yes. It wouldn't hurt to try him out.