Paul Menard is currently sitting 15th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings and is in desperate need of a win if he wants to make the Chase. Luckily for Menard, the series returns to action after a week off in one of the most prestigious races of the year, the Brickyard 400.
The Brickyard 400 is the spot where Menard earned his first and only NASCAR Sprint Cup victory last year, and he is feeling confident heading into next week's race.
Menard took part in the weekly NASCAR teleconference today and I was able to ask him a few questions about next week's race.
I asked the defending Brickyard 400 champ about the wildcard race being so tight and him being the defending race winner if he put extra pressure on himself to get in the win column and make a run at the chase.
Menard replied, "Obviously like to repeat. That one win would go a long ways for the wild card. It's competitive every week. Look at Tony Stewart, for example, a couple races where he dominated last year and he's ran in the 20's this year. We found that last year, Michigan comes to mind, Bristol we ran the top-5 all day, came away with top-5 finishes and go back a couple of months later and we are running in the teens.
"The series is so competitive, that we go into this week as the defending race winner, but you can't go in there expecting to win. You need to do the best job you can to hope to win and put yourself in position to win. You know, everybody catches up with you pretty quick. I think that we have had fast cars at Indy, at Pocono, which is kind of a similar track, and I feel confident going into it for sure. I don't think I'll put any extra pressure on myself to repeat outside of just going out there and doing what we do every week to try to get the best finish we do at any track we go to."
As a local near the track, I share Menard's intense love for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He said on multiple occasions that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is his favorite track and the 400 is one of the best races on the schedule: "I still get goosebumps when I go through the tunnel between Turns 1 and 2 every year."
The reason Menard loves Indy so much is due to his family's legacy at the Speedway. His father John owns Menards and was a longtime IndyCar owner and put a team together for many years in May for the Indianapolis 500.
The elder Menard put a car on the pole for the Indianapolis 500 twice and always had the fast cars come the month of May every year. The team was always a threat for front starting positions and wins in the race.
Unfortunately, Menard was always snakebitten in the big race and never did put a car in victory lane. He finally got the chance to visit the famed victory lane at Indy last year when his son won the Brickyard 400. It wasn't the thrill of being the winning car owner as he tried for many years, but it was the bigger thrill of being there as a proud father.
I asked Paul today what his favorite childhood memories were of visiting Indy as a kid. He went down memory lane and told me, "When we ran the IndyCar team, we only ran the one race, Indianapolis. So Goodyear and Firestone, depending on which tire manufacturer was building tires at the time, would come to us to do tire testing for the Speedway. So we do a lot of tire testing throughout the year. I get out of school once in awhile, maybe a couple of times a year, to go attend a tire test at Indy.
"You know, the race weekends are great, but the tire tests were better yet, because I could actually be right next to the car, understand what they are doing. You know, everything is quiet and they are just going about their business, and you can go to different corners and really watch the car, understand it. I thought the coolest thing was being that much closer to the cars, and a little bit of a less-pressure situation."
If Menard does with the Brickyard again he will be in elite company. Since the Brickyard 400's inception in 1994 only seven drivers have won at IMS multiple times, including the Indianapolis 500. I wanted Menard's thoughts about what it would be like to be mentioned in the same breath as Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Dale Jarrett, Dario Franchitti, Helio Castroneves, and Dan Wheldon as multiple winners if he could win at the famous 2.5-mile track again.
He told me, "It would be huge. For me personally, the Brickyard 400 is the biggest race that we go to. I know for the sport, Daytona is considered the Super Bowl, but for me personally, there's no race I would rather win than the Brickyard 400, and to be a two-time winner there would be even better yet."
I think Menard will have a good shot on Sunday of becoming a repeat winner at the Speedway.
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