TALLADEGA, Ala. — An ailing Paul Menard indicated Saturday that Gander Trucks veteran Matt Crafton will likely fill in for him in a relief role after the start of Sunday’s Monster Energy Series race at Talladega Superspeedway.
Menard, who is set to retire at season’s end, said he is still dealing with neck pain and that he is concerned about a potential rollover crash at the high-speed, 2.66-mile track. Crafton spent time in the Wood Brothers Racing No. 21 Ford during Friday practice. Saturday, Menard qualified 14th for Sunday’s 1000Bulbs.com 500 (2 p.m. ET, NBC/NBC Sports App, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“We’re gonna kind of see how we feel,” Menard said. “We have a good backup plan with Matt and tried to get him as much drafting as we could yesterday because more than likely, honestly, I’m probably gonna get out. We’re gonna kind of see how it goes.”
The Wood Brothers team announced Thursday that Crafton would be on standby for Menard, who indicated Saturday that trouble with the discs in his neck were causing persistent soreness. Crafton won the pole position for Saturday’s NASCAR Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Talladega, finishing eighth in the playoff race.
Menard announced Sept. 10 that he would retire from full-time competition after the season, giving way to Matt DiBenedetto in the No. 21 ride. The 39-year-old driver indicated that he wanted to spend more time with his family after 13 full-time seasons.
“I’m getting old. It’s all part of it,” Menard said of his ailment. “It’s all part of what you sign up for when you‘re born, I guess.”
Should he step in, it would not be the first time that Crafton has played a fill-in role in NASCAR’s top division. The two-time Gander Trucks champion practiced and qualified Menard’s Richard Childress Racing No. 27 at Auto Club Speedway in March 2014. Menard skipped that Friday’s on-track activity after the birth of his first child. He also subbed in qualifying later that year at Michigan for Martin Truex Jr., who stayed home with girlfriend Sherry Pollex after a diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
Crafton’s lone Cup Series start came in the 2015 Daytona 500 as an 11th-hour sub for Kyle Busch, who suffered severe injuries on the eve of the race in an Xfinity Series event. He finished 18th.