Paul Menard leads way for Richard Childress Racing

The Associated Press
Monday, March 21, 2011; 5:15 PM

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Shame on all those people who accused Paul Menard of milking his family fortune for a ride in NASCAR.

Of course, that's exactly what it looked like as Menard sputtered along, failing to put up any reasonable results while racing free of job security issues. Armed with sponsorship from his father's chain of home improvement stores, Menard always had a healthy list of teams willing to give him a car despite four winless seasons at NASCAR's top level.

Funding from Menards, a Midwest-based chain, got the driver a job first at Dale Earnhardt Inc., then Yates Racing, last season at Richard Petty Motorsports and now Richard Childress Racing. But the August hiring by RCR was met with criticism: Money was the only thing Menard had that qualified him for a ride with such a prestigious organization.

Well, through the first month of his new job, Menard is getting the last laugh.

His fifth-place finish Sunday at Bristol Motor Speedway - just his third top-five in 151 career starts in NASCAR's elite Sprint Cup Series - moved him up one spot to fifth in the standings. He's the highest-ranked RCR driver, and has been the highest-finishing RCR driver in three of four races this year.

Not too shabby for the new driver at an organization that put three in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship last season.

"I feel bad for Paul because everybody looks at him as a fortunate son, the kid who has a billionaire dad who just buys him rides," said crew chief Slugger Labbe, who moved with Menard from RPM to RCR.

"I hope sooner or later people start looking at him as Paul Menard the race car driver, not the fortunate son."

On-track results is the only way to change perception, and Menard is working hard to prove himself. But there's no denying that driving for one of NASCAR's top teams has finally given Menard the opportunity to show he's talented.

He could have had the skills of seven-time champion Richard Petty, but so long as he was in mediocre to substandard equipment, nobody would have known. With RCR, Menard is certain that Labbe is getting full access to team owner Richard Childress' toolbox.

"I've got all the confidence that Richard is going to give me what I need," Menard said. "In the past, without getting into details, we've had issues with that. We've brought it to the attention to the people that mattered and it kind of seemed like it fell on deaf ears sometimes.

"Richard wants the No. 27 team to succeed. He's very personally invested in it and it's cool to be a part of."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2011 The Associated Press