Paul Menard is sticking around this season, literally and figuratively.
Richard Childress Racing announced last weekend that Menard had agreed to a three-year contract extension to drive its No. 27 Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series.
Perhaps even more importantly, Menard’s 13th place finish in Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway moved him back into the Top 10 in the series standings.
Recent history provides evidence that’s a good position to be in at this juncture in the season.
This weekend’s race at Dover (Del.) International Speedway marks the halfway point to the Chase. Eight of the drivers in the Top 10 at this point last season went on to qualify for the Chase.
Even better for Menard, he continues to remain around the Top 10 rather than dropping off after quick starts in recent seasons.
“For whatever reason we start the season off strong and then take a nosedive. So we’re trying to not take a nosedive this year,” Menard said. “So, as long as we keep learning and improving, we’ll be okay.
“Consistency, finishing races; I think we had a stat going into Talladega that we had finished on the lead lap every race, so that’s important.
“It’s really easy to lose points and harder to make them up.”
While Menard has not run up front and led many laps this season (four), he has stayed out of trouble and been remarkably consistent.
He has completed 3,944 of 3,949 total laps (99.9 percent) this season – best among drivers in the Top 10. Menard has four top-10 finishes, with his best finish (eighth) coming at California. His worst finish is 26th at Talladega, Ala.
Because the company owned by Menard’s father, John Menard, sponsors Paul’s team, he receives additional scrutiny on his performance in NASCAR’s biggest series.
Paul Menard, who earned his first Cup victory in the 2011 Brickyard 400, isn’t worried about the spotlight.
“There isn’t a driver in the garage who is satisfied with how they prove themselves. They are always trying to get better and trying to do more,” Menard said.
“RCR is the place where I won my first race at the Cup level. That’s always going to be special, obviously; but it’s a place where I feel like we can win more.
“It’s a comfortable place. It’s a great place to work.”
While most of the 2013 season thus far has been dominated by headlines produced by drivers from Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing, quietly RCR has been establishing itself as a contender as well.
Entering Sunday’s FedEx 400 at Dover, both Menard and Kevin Harvick (seventh) are in the Top 10 in points and Harvick is coming off his second win of the season.
Team owner Richard Childress has been pleased with the progress.
“I honestly think RCR is ready to contend for the championship this year. We have Kevin and Paul both up there. We’re getting better,” he said.
“Eric Warren (director of competition) has come along and put together a great group of people. Our engine shop keeps getting better and better.”