Paul Menard Interview: A Calm Guy Now, But Used To Have A 'Really Bad Temper'

AVONDALE AZ - FEBRUARY 25: Paul Menard driver of the #27 Menards Chevrolet stands in the garage area during practice for the Subway Fresh Fit 500 at Phoenix International Raceway on February 25 2011 in Avondale Arizona. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues with Paul Menard, who is enjoying a breakout season at Richard Childress Racing. Menard spoke with us at Auto Club Speedway.

SBN: Who is the most underrated driver in NASCAR?

PM: That's a tough one. Everybody's so good. I might say Regan Smith. He works hard, we're good friends off the track. I can see his work ethic. He's trying hard. He qualifies really well, but it seems like the races don't go his way sometimes.

SBN: What's one race you feel you should have won, but you didn't?

PM: Talladega in fall of '08, we had a really good shot at winning there. But probably the most disappointing one was Daytona, in the 500 (this year). We had a great car and it was kind of anybody's race at the end. If you're in the top 10, you have a shot. The last restart, we got hooked up with AJ (Allmendinger), and his car wasn't as fast as mine – so I had to drag the brake a lot more. We didn't end up where we wanted, but we definitely had a shot.

SBN: If you could pick any teammates aside from your current ones – manufacturer and sponsor conflicts aside – who would you pick?

PM: Well, you'd have to say Jeff Gordon, with everything he's done. Jimmie Johnson, he's on top of his game. How many more can I pick?

SBN: Well, it's up to you. Kind of a fantasy team.

PM: Let's make it a four-car team. So I need one more – and I'll say Tony Stewart.

SBN: What do you want your retirement story to say about you when you step out of the car for good someday?

PM: Just 'had a successful career.' Whether that's win races, win championships, whatever. Just a successful career.

SBN: What's a memorable post-race escape you made from the track to get to the airport?

PM: I haven't really made many; nothing really stands out. I fly with the team, so I have time to go back to the motorhome and take a shower, then book it to the airport. But typically I'll still beat the team there, because they're loading up the car and stuff. So I'm not in as big of a rush as a lot of guys are.

SBN: Who is a famous person you'd like to meet who you haven't met yet?

PM: There isn't really one. A guy like Ronald Reagan, I would have liked to meet a guy who has been through what he went through and seen what he's seen. That would have been cool, but I won't have that opportunity now. I'm pretty content with knowing the people I know.

Actually, there is one: The guy's name is Louis Zamperini. I just read his book, called Unbroken. He's a World War II bombardier. Really good book, you should check it out. He was a P.O.W. in Japan, and he went through some shit. He's like 95 years old or something.

SBN: Would you rather have a season where you won a couple huge races but missed the Chase, or would you rather make the Chase and contend for the title but not win any races?

PM: Contend for the championship with no wins. The championship is a bigger deal than the wins. Pretty simple.

SBN: Where does your motivation to win come from? Do you want to do it for personal pride, or proving people wrong, or what?

PM: Just competitive spirit, I guess. I played sports growing up. I played hockey, raced, played football. It's just something that's kind of born into you: You want to go out and compete and do the best job you can. It's more selfish reasons than anything – you want to compete against other people who are at the top of their game and do the best you can.

SBN: So what position did you play in football?

PM: I was a middle linebacker.

SBN: So you liked to hit people?

PM: (smiles) Oh yeah. Yeah.

SBN: How different is your personality inside the car and outside it?

PM: Probably pretty similar. I'm a pretty calm guy, inside and outside. I go about my daily affairs kind of the same way I go about driving the race car.

SBN: Have you always been that way?

PM: I think so. When I was young, I had a really bad temper. Probably 10, 15 years ago I learned to kind of control that. So that's probably the calm nature I have now.

SBN: If you could switch lives with an athlete from a different sport, is there anyone you'd want to swap places with?

PM: No. I'm content. (smiles)

SBN: If you could take a year off from NASCAR and go do whatever you wanted, knowing you had a ride guaranteed when you came back, would you want to do that?

PM: That's a tough question. If I had to do that, I'd probably just go ski. I'd go to South America in the summer and everywhere else in the winter. I'm not sure if I would do that or not – probably not.

It's a tough sport, and if you're out for a year, you lose something, I think. You have to be involved in it all the time and immerse yourself. If you did do that, it would definitely hurt you when you came back.

SBN: Would you rather win the championship having locked up the title before you get to Homestead or do it off Turn 4 of the last lap of the season?

PM: I'd clinch it the week before. (chuckles) Then you don't have to worry about it. You can go to Miami and just race.

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