It’s almost a yearly idea that Paul Menard will change teams. Could 2011 be the year that the Wisconsin born driver, and son of Menards founder, joins Richard Childress Racing? Paul’s father carriers a large stick when it comes to NASCAR because he can provide valuable sponsorship dollars to field a car for an entire race season. The older Menard has been able to provide better rides for his son thanks to his financial backing but it’s likely that Paul would be in the sport one way or the other given his reasonable amount of talent.
Menard joined Yates Racing for the 2009 season after a stint with DEI. Success wasn’t aplenty but the driver said he intended to race the full 2010 season with the team as per his contract. In that time Yates Racing merged with Richard Petty Motorsports but still left Menard in the #98 Ford Fusion for the 2010 season.
His father John Menard Jr has been linked with RCR for years. Even though his son said he wanted to stay at RPM there were rumors he would RCR as the fourth car thanks to his fathers multi-million dollar sponsorship.
For what it’s worth you have to give Menard credit for wanting to honor his contract considering the merger would have given him an easy out if he did want to change teams. For that he was rewarded in a way, being given a full time Nationwide ride by Jack Roush.
The 2010 season has been the best of Menards career. His best Sprint Cup finish this year came in the fourth race of the season at Atlanta when he came home fifth. He’s also managed a career best three top-10’s after just two in the first 111 races of his career.
On the Nationwide side things are also looking up. The 29 year-old driver has ten top-10’s this year in 20 races after just nine over 27 races the last two years. With 15 races left in the season it appears Menard will top his career best of sixteen top-10’s in 2006.
Things have been on the rise for Menard, one of the quieter drivers on the circuit. Thus far he’s stated that he planned to return to RPM if teammate A.J. Allmendiger did. RPM has been working hard to get a deal finalized with Allmendiger and with a relative lack of remaining openings it appears one should get done.
That doesn’t discredit the great runs that Clint Bowyer, Jeff Burton and Sprint Cup points leader Kevin Harvick have had a RCR. Last year the RCR cars were well off the pace but seemed to pick up momentum down the stretch. This year the RCR cars have been good enough to run with the Hendrick Motorsports cars and the Joe Gibbs racing Toyotas.
The biggest question a move to RCR would bring is the team structure. Menard would again have to familiarize himself with a new crew which would be made up of lesser talent then that of the 29, 31 or 33 cars.
At RCR Menard is the fourth car. At RPM Menard has the opportunity to be the face of an organization surrounded by drivers like himself. I personally expect Menard to return to the #98 car in 2011 with an improved crew. After all how many times was Bobby Labonte linked to RCR and nothing happened outside of a few Nationwide runs?