Silly Season Update: Save Big Money at Menard’s

“Midway through the 2004 season DEI signed Paul Menard to drive a Busch Series car with the eventual hope to move to Cup. At age 23 he was a promising stock car driver that had already won two races on the Grand Am tour. The fact that he also provided sponsorship by way of his father John’s lucrative home improvement company, Menard’s, did nothing to hurt Paul’s future.

After a slow start with DEI, Menard hit his stride midway through 2005 when he rattled off 6 top 5’s and 15 top 10’s in the final 20 races. His 6th place points standing asserted his standing as a Cup prospect. He followed up in 2006 with another 6th place showing in a Busch Series that featured an avalanche of fulltime Cup drivers dominating the series. Menard won his first NASCAR race at Milwaukee and also ran in 7 Cup races for DEI. This paved the way for a hopeful 2007 when Menard would run full time in a 3rd DEI car alongside Dale Earnhardt Jr and Martin Truex Jr.

Since Menard has joined the Cup Series, things haven’t quite clicked. So it isn’t surprising that the AP is reporting that Menard is headed for Yates Racing for 2009. Menard hasn’t scored a top ten since his 7 race stint in 2006, has only 17 lead lap finishes in two seasons and averaging a poor 26.1 finish [note: the AP incorrectly said Menard has 1 top ten this year and is 22nd in points. He has 0 top 10’s and is 28th in driver points]. Aside from a pole at this summer’s Daytona race, Menard’s only claim to fame was drawing Tony Stewart’s ire via several pit road incidents in last year’s Chase.

The move is great for Yates Racing, a team in dire need of sponsorship dollars. It also hurts DEI for the same reason. After the announcement is official, DEI will sit at one fully sponsored car (#1 of Truex), a rookie scheduled for 36 races (Aric Almirola), and an unknown status for the #01 and #15 cars. For Menard, it’s an interesting decision. He leaves a team with some decent resources and more importantly a guaranteed starting spot with DEI for a team that, despite a strong alliance with Roush-Fenway Racing, is still rebuilding going on four years. Unless David Gilliland or Travis Kvapil are released, Menard will have to begin the season outside the top 35. Based on his qualifying struggles in 2006 and 2007 (9 DNQ’s) it could be a rough road.

At one point it looked like Menard could develop into a solid driver that would occasionally challenge for a win. His Busch/Nationwide numbers were a lot better than several young drivers that landed Cup rides. Unfortunately that promise has been replaced with the reality that Menard looks nothing like a driver ready to crack the top 25, let alone score top tens. Menard is still only 28, but even in mediocre equipment I would have expected to see more promise out of him.

What do you think of the deal? Who’s the winner of this? Is anyone a winner or is it simply shuffling parts among two second-rate teams? How good is Menard? Can he score a few top tens or is he simply a backmarker?