It was only a few seasons ago, two to be exact, that Paul Menard was honored with being named the champion of allleftturns.com’s annual FLOPPER award. For those of you that may not remember, the FLOPPER award was given to the driver that Finishes Last in Overall Points while Participating in Every Race.
That year Menard, finished 31st in points with no top-10s, an average start of 31st, average finish of 27th and led only 12 laps.
Menard has come a long way in the two seasons since earning that much coveted award, and Sunday he was able to put all of that behind him to beat the odds and earn another, somewhat more prestigious title, Brickyard 400 champion.
Making the move to Richard Childress Racing for the 2011 season, few expected the strong results Menard has shown thus far in the year. Now 20 races into the season, Menard has led 24 more laps than he had in five previous years of competition and has been a consistent front-runner for much of the season.
On the verge of finding victory lane multiple times, he had four top-fives going into Sunday’s race,
Menard was finally able to break through on one of the sport’s biggest stages.
When Richard Childress made the move to bring Menard on board, many questioned his reasoning, expecting the team to struggle from the get-go. Yet throughout the entire process, Childress remained confident Menard had what it takes to prove himself as a winner.
“I caught a lot of flack back early last year when we decided to go with four teams,” Childress said. “I’ve been watching Paul ever since he won the Nationwide race. He doesn’t tear equipment up. He’s consistent. He’s really good. Got a cool head on him in all situations. I knew if the right situation come along, we’d win.”
Sunday, that day finally came as Menard was able to hold off last year’s winner Jamie McMurray and stretch his fuel mileage to take the checkered flag. In doing so, Menard also became a Chase prospect, currently holding one of the two wild card spots with six race left before the 12-driver field is set.
Despite his strong season and now with a check in the win column, Menard understands some will continue to look at him as taking advantage of his father’s sponsorship dollars.
“(You) can’t change people’s opinions,” he said. “They’re going to say what they want to say. That’s fine with me. We’ll celebrate this. We’ll enjoy it. We’re going to work hard for Pocono, try to make the Chase.
“Whatever they say, they say. Can’t control it. I know what I’m capable of. I have total belief in Richard, Slugger (Labbe, crew chief) and everybody. I think we can win a couple more.”
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