Editor’s Note: After qualifying for his first Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup last season, Paul Menard hopes to contend for the title again this season. Menard was featured in the March issue of SPEED SPORT Magazine. Here’s an excerpt from that story.
Business picked up in mid-February at Daytona Int’l Speedway. Paul Menard kicked off his season on Feb. 13 with a third-place finish in the non-points Sprint Unlimited. The surprising result seemed to back up his notion that second-year crew chief Justin Alexander is the right man to sit atop Menard’s pit box.
“Justin’s a smart guy,” Menard said. “He came to our team to crew chief in late 2014 and got a few races in, but last year was his rookie year. I think he learned a ton.
“My concern going into last year was his lack of experience. How was he going to call races and make decisions on top of the pit box? I think that was one of his strengths. He really excelled at remaining calm, thinking through changes and nine times out of 10 we made positive changes to the car throughout the race and throughout practice. We’re looking for more good things this year. ”
Menard thinks his ninth full season in the Sprint Cup Series will be his best. Part of what fuels that belief, he said, is his ability to work well with Alexander and RCR’s engineers. There’s no surefire way to predict how a green crew chief will perform with a veteran driver looking to take the next step. In Alexander’s and Menard’s cases, Menard said he was able to shorten the learning curve.
It should pay dividends this year.
“We have an open (line of) communication,” he said. “If I see he’s being too slow with calling an adjustment during practice, I’ll tell him that. And with all the data that we have from the cars, with the EFI data, if he sees something I’m doing differently than (teammates) Ryan (Newman) does or Austin (Dillon) does in the car, he’s going to tell me that.”