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NASCAR Season Preview: Paul Menard

Photo credit: Ned Leone

#27 Menards Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing

Born: August 21, 1980

Home: Eau Claire, Wisconsin

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: 2011 proved Menard’s best season yet, as he scored eight top 10s and finished 17th in points. After years of trying, Menard finally scored his first career Sprint Cup win in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. The win was especially sweet, as Menard’s father John built and sponsored cars in the Indianapolis 500 for years, only to come agonizingly close to victory.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: Menard had an outside shot at making the Chase for the Sprint Cup as a wild card driver thanks to his win, but fell to 23rd in points at Richmond and was not eligible.He also had his typical pseudo-breakout in the first five races of the season, only to settle in once springtime came.

SEASON OUTLOOK: In his first year driving for Richard Childress Racing, Menard finally broke into the Sprint Cup win column with a popular yet unexpected victory at Indianapolis, and for the first time managed to stick in the top 20 in points all season. In his second year with Childress and crew chief Slugger Labbe, the goal will be to build on last season’s consistency. With only three full-time cars in 2012 (the #33 will only run a limited schedule), Menard moves up a rung on the driver ladder this season, giving him a strong opportunity to do so.

It will be no shock if Menard starts the season hot, something that’s happened in each of the past few seasons. The trick will be to eliminate the string of bad runs in April and May that inevitably remove him from Chase contention. Last season, through eight races, Menard ranked 11th in points; after four consecutive finishes of 22nd or worse, he fell to 20th. But another win at just the right time, minimizing of the so-so runs, and a little luck could propel Menard into his first Chase in 2012.

– Chris Leone

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