Falling Up

Is Paul Menard’s deal with the Wood Brothers good for NASCAR?

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I have a problem with Paul Menard. Not Paul Menard the man, Paul Menard the race car driver.

This week’s announcement that Menard would be taking over the legendary 21, Wood Brothers Ford, when Ryan Blaney moves to his home base at Team Penske in 2018, really rubbed me the wrong way. The reason? I believe this is a bad look for NASCAR as a sport. But before you get too upset with me, let me list the reasons why I feel this way.

It returns the Wood Brothers back to irrelevancy

We all knew the writing was on the wall when Blaney first set foot in the 21. There would come a day when he would move to Penske. Think about his stint in the 21 for a moment. When was the last time that ride was really relevant? The answer, one Daytona 500 in 2011. Before that? One Elliott Sadler win in 2001.

If you remove all of the drivers that had one start in the 21 since Sadler’s 2001 Bristol win you get an average finish no greater than 20.8 in 2005. The years before Blaney look like this:

34.0
24.9
25.8
22.5
25.2
21.2

I know there are variables here, such as teaming up with Penske when Blaney came up to Cup that need to be noted. But the last two seasons of Blaney have resulted in an average finish of 18.7, a pole, 16 top 10s and a playoff berth coming with his recent win at Pocono. Not to mention, Ryan Blaney is a star. He’s one of the future corner stones of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. He’s in the news every week, he has a highly regarded podcast. Oh! The most important thing… He performs on Sundays! Speaking of which…

This is a driver downgrade in more ways than one

Take everything I just said about Blaney and reverse it. Who do you get? Paul Mendard.

Menard is known for not being charismatic, not performing on the track (Yes. I know 2011 Indy. Got it), and he’s 13 years older. Not exactly on the upswing.

Here’s my quick rant about Menard. How does this guy keep falling up into better rides? (Side note: I know the answer is his last name) Let’s take a quick look at the timeline.

2008
As DEI is crumbling to the ground, Menard is able to jump to Yates Racing.

2009-10
Menard gets another opportunity to jump ship as Yates shuts down, merging with Richard Petty Motorsports. (Fun fact: Menard was the last driver for DEI and Robert Yates. How sad is that?)

2011 to now
RPM, struggling after losing Kasey Kahne and the piling on of many other issues also loses Menard to RCR.

Now, Menard gets to step into Team Penske equipment? My brain can’t handle it.

This deal takes a great opportunity away from a younger, polarizing star

We know the good that Menard brings to the table. The Wood Brothers get 2/3 of a season fully funded. At the end of the day we want to keep the Woods in NASCAR. That’s the only redeeming thing about this deal. One of the worst things about racing is that sometimes money trumps talent. If you don’t have cash, you can’t race.

The worst thing about this model is the incredible talent that gets left behind. For every Blaney, Kyle Larson or Erik Jones, hundreds of other talented drivers never get the chance. And for those who do get a shot on the big stage, many times they are stuck in bad equipment. The Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series are filled with talented drivers who could flourish given the opportunity to drive for a team like Team Penske. Look at John Hunter Nemechek as an example of a guy who may not ready for Cup just yet, but as someone who is super talented, wins with underfunded equipment, and has an uncertain future solely based on dollars.

So much of NASCAR racing is performance based. A jackman messes up on a pit stop and he’s gone. Kasey Kahne hits a nasty slump and all of a sudden sponsors flee and his contract becomes meaningless. One thing separates Paul Menard from everyone else. His dad has a lot of money.

There’s a better driver out there for this seat. Although this deal works for both sides, it does a disservice to NASCAR racing and the fans of the sport.

I’m not asking anyone who reads this to agree with me. That’s the beauty of sports. Sometimes we can disagree. I just hope the next time you hear me groan or sigh on the podcast you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

*Photo courtesy of rcr.com.

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