This past week, before the great American tire debacle race at Indianapolis, I had the great opportunity to speak with the driver of the No. 15 Menards Chevrolet, Paul Menard. Paul is in his second full season as a Sprint Cup driver but is in the beginning of his 5th year of driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc. If you’re a regular reader of my blog you’ll know that this was my very first interview with a driver. Hell, it was my first time talking to a driver longer than just saying “Hi.” So needless to say I was nervous, and I think it went well but there were some hiccups.
After asking my first couple of questions, without incident, I asked if Paul had made up (or talked to, or made peace) with Tony Stewart since the pit road incident they’d shared last year during the Bank of America 500 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway. He just answered “next question.” Yeah, that was awkward. Oh and then later on I asked him, on behalf of all the female fans out there, if he was dating anyone, or had a girlfriend, to which he responded “that’s my business.” Oops. And he was right of course, it is his business, but I wasn’t expecting that.
So without further adieu here’s our conversation:
Me: So how do you feel about your year so far? Did you have any goals going into this year and do you feel like your achieving them? How do you feel about things?
Menard: We’re not where we want to be for sure but we’re gaining on it. Compared to last year we’re much further ahead. It’s not with just the (No.) 15 team but with the company as a whole. It’s pretty exciting for the future.
Me: So this is your second year in Cup racing, has there been a difference between the Nationwide Series and coming into Cup? How do you feel about knowing the lay of the land and the personalities associated with Cup racing?
Menard: In the Nationwide Series you basically have 20 cars, 10 to 20 cars every week that can win and in the Cup series you have 20 to 30 cars that can win. So the competition is just that much tougher. The one thing about Nationwide racing is that you get to race with Cup drivers every week, so when I moved up to the Cup series I was that much farther ahead knowing how these different people race at the racetrack and what you can get away with and what you can’t. I would say the Nationwide Series is a much better next step than the Truck series to get to the Cup level just because you get a dose of Cup racing anyway.
Me: I know your fans love your sideburns and I know they talk to you about them. How do you maintain them? Do you do it yourself?
Menard: I’ve had them since probably 2000 when I started listening to Elvis and Neil Diamond. Yeah, they’re self maintained so they get longer, or they’ll trail off, they get shorter.
Me: Speaking of your fans, do you ever go online to read what people are writing about you? Or what your fans are saying?
Menard: Like articles and stuff? No, I don’t.
Me: Message boards or anything like that?
Menard: No, I know they’re out there but to me it’s a waste of time. Some people are into it and some people aren’t, I’m not.
Me: Are there any drivers that you’re friends with in the garage or that you hang out with in your off time? And also do you have anyone that you always kind of go to for advice or you talk to about racing and what you could do better?
Menard: As far as hanging out with anybody in the Cup garage? No, not really. I mean, Monday nights we’ll go with Regan (Smith) and Aric (Almirola) we’ll play racquetball. Regan will have a party at his house and I’ll go over there and I’ll have a party at my house and he’ll come over here. It’s pretty much every man for himself outside of your own teammates. So no I don’t.
Me: Do you think about your position within DEI very often? Is that something you’re concerned with at this point?
Menard: There’s four cars there and I think every win, each program, the 01, the 1, the 8, the15, there’s different personalities that mesh and that’s what makes up a team. It is basically four cars that are literally within spitting distance within each other and so Martin (Truex Jr.) is really the go-to-guy as far as everything goes. But there’s so much information sharing that it’s four teams acting as one, and we need to improve on that a little bit, but that’s where it’s at, it’s basically four teams acting as one.
Me: So away from the track what kind of guy are you? Are you an outdoorsy person? Are you into video games? What are your passions away from the track?
Menard: It depends on the day, I mean, five days of the week where it’s all about racing and the other two days it’s half about racing and half about getting stuff done on the house or going dirt biking or playing around on the lake with the wakeboard, or staying in shape with working out, or racquetball, or tennis. It depends on the day but I try to mix it up, have a little fun with the things I mentioned.
Me: What would you like people to know about you as a racer? And are there any misconceptions about you that you think people should throw out?
Menard: People have their own opinions and they’ll form them. About how I’d describe myself as a racer, I’m not a very, I don’t know what the word is. I’m not that much of soul searcher where I analyze myself like that. I try to stay out of trouble, stay clean and try to be there at the end, ‘cause if you haul ass and you quit you’re not, obviously you’re not going to finish very well. So just try to be there at the end and in the meantime run as fast you can.
Me: How do you feel about your chances at Indy this weekend? And what does Indianapolis mean to you?
Menard: It’s definitely the by far and away the number one race on the schedule as far as I’m concerned. I grew up in Wisconsin but it seemed like I grew up racing in Indiana and Indianapolis just being around it for so many years. It’s definitely my favorite venue to go to and everything surrounding it is very cool. We finished 20th here last year we’d like to improve on that, hopefully the weather holds out, we get some good practice sessions in and make the car go fast.