Paul Menard setting up a Chase run
Photo by Benjamin Palmer / TheRacingExperts.com
Paul Menard turns laps at Phoenix International Raceway. Statistically, Menard is having a career year.
By Dominic Aragon
June 4, 2014
If the Chase started today, Paul Menard would qualify for the playoffs.
Menard, the longest tenured Cup driver at Richard Childress Racing, sits 14th in the point standings, and has scored a top-ten finish in three of the last four races, including one at Dover this past Sunday.
“The guys gave me great stops on pit road, which helped keep us in the top-five early in the race,” said Menard, who finished tenth Sunday. “It was a great race for us and another top-ten finish doesn't hurt.”
Menard is currently the only driver from the RCR stable to score a top-five finish this season, a third place run at Las Vegas in March.
Yet, Menard is not in uncharted territory. The driver has been inside the Chase cutoff or just outside it the last two seasons heading into Pocono.
But unlike the last two years, 2014 data for Menard shows a brighter picture.
Menard has led 45 laps in three events, eclipsing 2012 and 2013 totals combined after 13 races. And with seven top-ten finishes, it is Menard’s fastest start to a season in terms of placing tenth or better.
The former Brickyard 400 winner also flagships RCR’s Cup efforts with the most top-ten finishes among teammates Ryan Newman and Austin Dillon.
Menard’s span of good finishes has a decent chance of continuing over the next couple weeks, as Pocono and Michigan have been historically well to him.
He has scored three top-ten finishes at Pocono in his time at RCR. He had a top-ten finish dashed last season in the Spring Pocono race on the last lap.
Menard has also scored two top-five finishes with RCR at Michigan, including a fourth place finish the last time the Cup Series visited the track.
If the trend can continue with lead lap finishes, the 33-year-old driver might be a competitor working his way into a Chase spot.
Menard has never made the Chase, placing a best of 16th in points in 2012. But a win would all but guarantee a Chase berth.
It’s been 101 races since the driver won, but it’s possible to see a breakthrough performance, like the 2011 Brickyard 400.
Possibly, Paul Menard’s best chance may be at Daytona, a restrictor plate racetrack. 39 of Menard’s 45 laps led in 2014 have come at the two Superspeedway races.