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April 6, 2013

Menard Hopes to Build on Strong Start

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Author: Joe Ziemer
Date: April 3, 2013

Three top-10 finishes in five starts. Eighth in the season points standings. It's been a pretty decent start to the Sprint Cup season for Paul Menard. But the Eau Claire native isn't satisfied just yet.

"Top-10s are good days in the Sprint Cup, but we want to be better than that," Menard said. "We want to run in the top five. When you're running in the top five every week, you start contending for wins.

"We've started off well, but we  definitely want to get more out of it."

The big picture goal for Menard is pretty simple: stay in the top 10 in the standings and end the season in the Chase. He and the No. 27 team are on the right path thanks to a streak of three consecutive top-10 finishes. He's also one of only five drivers to have completed every lap attempted this season.

Menard took 10th in Las Vegas, ninth at Bristol and eighth at Fontana. That string of results had Menard wishing last week's off weekend had come at a different time, like during the hectic summer.

"You'd rather save it and have another break during the summer time," Menard said. "After July, I think we're straight through November. It gets pretty brutal. I definitely would like to not have that break. But we did, and we're better prepared because of it."

Prior to the season, one of the No. 27 team's primary focuses was on improving its qualifying program. In 2012, Menard had his best points finish at 16th. But his top-five finishes dropped from four in 2011 to one. That probably was related to an average start decline of 12.0 to 16.2.

This year, Menard also is starting at an average place of 16.2. He'd like to see that improve. At  Fontana, Menard worked his way through the field to finish eighth despite starting 27th. He knows that's not the norm.

"Even if you do have a good car, it's hard to pass," Menard said. "Qualifying is extremely important. It's definitely something we have to get better at."

A good qualifying run will be important this weekend at Martinsville Speedway, where track position is the name of the game. The flat, half-mile oval known as "The  Paperclip" is what Menard calls a throwback track.

Every car will be  fighting for position on the bottom groove. It's a track that makes for fun driving but frustrating racing.

"It's almost like a game of bumper cars," Menard said.

Menard's fully  expecting a few wrinkled fenders. That comes with the territory at Martinsville. But he and his team go in with confidence after their strong start to the season.

"You have to minimize mistakes," Menard said. "You're going to have some long green flag runs, so track position is really important to get out front and stay out there."

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