March 23, 2012; Fontana, CA, USA; Sprint Cup Series driver Paul Menard (27) during qualifying for the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway. Photo: Gary A. Vasquez-US PRESSWIRE
In this week's 12 Questions, Menard says he'd consider being a team owner after he retires and offers a surprising pick for the cleanest-driving racer.
Our series of weekly NASCAR driver interviews continues with Richard Childress Racing's Paul Menard, who sits 14th in the Sprint Cup Series point standings entering Saturday night's Texas Motor Speedway race. You can find the previous "12 Questions" interviews here.
SBN: How many of the races in your career can you remember?
PM: I'd say 90 percent. There's a few go-kart races that I don't remember, but you pretty much remember bits and pieces of every race you run. Some races you remember the whole thing. And the wins are hard to forget.
SBN: What was the first win you got in any form of racing?
PM: It was a go-kart race. I think it was my second go-kart race, and I was 8 years old. It was up in Brainerd, Minn. We ran a four-cycle rookie class, and these guys out of Iowa built our motors. We had good power.
SBN: How'd you celebrate?
PM: Brainerd was like a six-hour drive for us (from Wisconsin), so we probably just stopped at McDonald's or something on the way home.
SBN: Who is a clean driver you enjoy racing with in NASCAR?
PM: Surprisingly, (Tony) Stewart. If you come up on Stewart and you're quicker than him, he's generally really clean and lets you go.
SBN: How about on the opposite end of that? Who do you dread racing because he always seems to hold you up?
PM: Used to be (Juan Pablo) Montoya. We get along great, but he used to race me really hard. Now he kind of understands if you're faster, you gotta let 'em go. It all depends on what part of the race you're in or what your history has been with that person the last couple weeks. I can't really pinpoint anybody.
SBN: What's your personal code of conduct on the track?
PM: I look at, "Alright, for most of the race have I been faster than this guy? If so, am I going to have to pass him again in five laps if I let him go?" So you look at that, and then obviously you race them how you think they race you; if you passed them early in the race and they gave you a hard time on it, then you're not going to let them go when the roles are reversed.
SBN: Do you keep a mental list for on-track payback?
PM: Yeah, you keep a history of it for sure. But I don't believe in wrecking race cars, because the drivers don't work on the race cars – it's the guys back at the shop. So I'm probably a tough one to ask that question to, because I don't believe in wrecking race cars unless it's absolutely necessary.
SBN: So if someone wrongs you on the track, you won't retaliate?
PM: What you've seen in the last year a couple times with guys flat-out wrecking people, I never do that. Yeah, you'll get 'em out of the way if you have to. But I don't believe tearing things up. I just think it's unnecessary.
SBN: Who is a driver from the past you'd like to team up with if you could?
PM: Harry Gant. I've just heard a lot of cool stories about him, hanging out with (Andy) Petree. He and Petree are pretty tight. It seems like he was a pretty smooth driver, won a lot of races and got into it in his prime. It'd be cool to see how he did it.
SBN: When is the last time you got nervous about something?
PM: I'd say every Sunday, but that's more anxiety and feeling ready to get going than nervousness. So I'll say public speaking.
SBN: Drivers have a lot of interactions with fans, and sometimes there can be an awkward moment. Can you recall an awkward moment you had recently with a fan?
PM: Every market you go to has got a different kind of race fan. Like we do a lot of (Menards) store appearances, and the fans at the store in Golden Valley, Minn. are different from the people in Lebanon, Ind., where we were the week before. And the people in Martinsville react differently than the week before in California. So you'll always have a crazy race fan, but you get a lot of them who are cool to talk to, too. You just get more or less of them in different markets.
SBN: How do you deal with it if a fan asks you an uncomfortable question?
PM: I try to answer it. I'm not good at lying, so I give them a straight-up answer.
SBN: If you had to choose one of these jobs at the end of your career, would you rather be a NASCAR broadcaster or high-ranking NASCAR official?
PM: Definitely a NASCAR official. You still stay involved in the sport and know what's going on from a day-to-day basis. And I'm not much of a talker, so I wouldn't do well on TV or radio. I'd have my finger on the pulse of things (as an official), rather than talking about something I probably don't know anything about.
SBN: What's a question you get asked a lot that you're tired of answering?
PM: "If you have to pee in the race car, how do you do it?" I guess I don't get tired of it, but people are generally curious about what you have to do. I mean, you've got two options: You can either hold it or go.
SBN: Each week, I'm asking a driver to help me out with one question for the next guy. Last week, David Stremme wanted to know: "Given your family's history in racing, do you think you'll own a race team some day?"
PM: Yeah, I've definitely thought about it. I think it would be extremely difficult to be an owner/driver, so if I did something like that, it would be after I retire. You'd have to start small, I think – maybe start with a Late Model team or sports cars.
SBN: And can you help me out with a question for the next guy?
PM: Ask them, "What was your home track? What was the first track you raced on? What did you like about it?"
SBN: You got it, thanks.