By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Correspondent
*Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season for the full-time drivers in the series leading into next month’s 61st running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: 12
Career Wins: One
The 2018 season marked the best for Paul Menard since he made the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs in 2015.
In 2018, Menard earned just one top-five finish, in a rain-shortened race at Michigan International Speedway. He earned a total of seven top-10 finishes throughout the season. Menard turned heads at Chicagoland Speedway when he earned his first pole position in almost exactly 10 years.
Despite the speed he had in the 2018 season, Menard came up short in his quest to return to victory lane. His only Premier Series victory, the 2011 Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, came in the Gen 5 car seven years ago.
Menard admitted that his main expectation is to reach victory lane.
“I want to make sure that we win a race in order to clinch a spot in the playoffs.”
If Menard were to reach victory lane, he would earn Wood Brothers Racing their 100thNASCAR Cup Series victory, the most recent came with Ryan Blaney at Pocono Raceway in 2017. His move to the Wood Brothers last season marked an increase in consistency. Menard earned his best average finish, 19.4, since 2015, and the most top-10s since 2014.
Despite the increased consistency, Menard still faces unknowns heading into the 2019 season. He will be competing in the third different car in three years, moving from Richard Childress Racing’s Chevrolet SS in 2017 to the Ford Fusion at WBR in 2018, and now the Ford Mustang. A new aero and engine package will also be in play, compounding the unknowns of a new car model.
Menard expects his biggest challenge will be the new aero and engine packages.
“Beating 39 other guys week to week. Communication, preparation, making good decisions. It all adds up to success. We really don’t know what the racing is going to look like this year with the new aero and engine package, so we all are basically staring at a pretty clean slate.”
Even with the unknowns heading into the 2019 season, Menard finished runner-up in the debut of a similar aero package in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2017. His previous experience with this package, as well as the dominance of Ford Performance in 2018, could provide the opportunity for Menard to break-through for his second career victory.