Is Paul Menard for real in 2011?

One of the early bright spots (and perhaps only) for Richard Childress Racing has been the success of the #27 car driven by Paul Menard. Menard and much of the crew was brought over from the #98 team that Paul drove for Richard Petty Motorsports last year. Crew chief Slugger Labbe again sits on top of the pit box. The #27 Menards Chevrolet sits in sixth place in the point standings, the highest of any RCR Cup entry.

But is Paul Menard for real this year? Sixth place in the standings would suggest Menard is looking at his best year at the cup level but you could also argue that he’s notched just one top-10 in those three starts and that happened to be at Daytona. In Menard’s other two outings he finished 17th and 12th.

Hardly what you’d expect from a driver with so much talk but again the year is early and any abominably atop the standings always creates a buzz. But is there a reason to buzz about Menard and his early start or are we being tricked by early season standings?

If last season is any indication it’s that people are rushing to judgement too quickly on Menard in 2011. He ranked 11th in the point standings following the sixth race of last season at Martinsville. All that despite posint one top-10 finish, a fifth place run at Atlanta which was more a result of staying out on worn tires though a few restarts.

To Menard’s credit the team did earn five other top-10 runs last year which was a career best for the 30-year old and saw him end the season 23rd in points. That of course all came with Richard Petty Motorsports and the move to Richard Childress is expected to be a step up for Menard or so we’ve been told.

When it was announced that Menard had signed on to RCR to be the fourth car questions arose. The first was how RCR would function with four cars, the second was whether this was simply a cash grab for RCR so it could compete with Hendrick Motorsports.

Thus far the answers are as follows. Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer are just outside the top-12 in points thanks to some hiccups and veteran Jeff Burton is a distant 32nd for much of the same reasons. It’s simply too early to say if adding the fourth car has been helpful or adherence to the organization as a whole. Despite any great runs Menard has managed to place himself inside the top-12 early on. It’s unlikely he’ll stay there but there is reason to believe he could and should improve on his numbers from last season, after all anything less would prove the doubters correct.

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