MOORESVILLE, N.C. – Paul Menard’s decision to exit full-time competition in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series came in the exact opposite fashion from what most of the industry expected.
It was a loud, proud and extremely unexpected bombshell from the quiet, humble Wisconsinite who has rarely made waves over the course of his 16-year NASCAR national series career.
“I’ll admit, it wasn’t my goal to keep it a huge secret,” Menard said on a national media teleconference Tuesday afternoon. “It was just something that I spoke to the people that needed to know, you know? I talked to Eddie and Len and the folks at (Wood Brothers technical partner) Team Penske, and that it is what it is.
“Today was just the day we decided to put it out there.”
But despite the surprise nature of Menard’s announcement to the general public on Tuesday, the 39-year-old noted it was a move he’s been considering for some time, leaving him content with his choice as he moves to spend additional time with his wife and two young children.
“First and foremost, this decision comes from the time spent away from family,” explained Menard. “I’ve got two young kids at home, a son and a daughter … so watching them grow and missing out on a couple of things that they’ve been doing is hard as a father and as a parent. This sport takes so much dedication to run at the top level. I want what’s best for the (No.) 21 team, but I also want what’s best for my family. And I think this decision is based off of that, primarily.
“Matt’s a young guy that the Wood Brothers can put the time into in order to give these guys what they need, and it allows me to spend more time with my family.”
Menard, who told reporters in July at Kentucky Speedway that he expected to be back in the No. 21 Ford in 2020, was quick to dispel the notion that his move out of the driver’s seat was a snap decision.
“I wouldn’t say that there was one day where this decision was made. It was more of a general feeling throughout the year and a lot of thought that was put into it,” noted Menard. “When I answered that question, I wasn’t really sure at the time what I was going to do. I do have a contract for next year; I’m just deciding not to pursue it. I love my team, and we’ve got some really good guys on board.
“Matt’s got a great team to plug into, we’ve got a good base and he’ll be just fine.”
Menard’s biggest moment at NASCAR’s top level came in 2011, when he saved fuel and won the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway over a hard-charging Jeff Gordon in the final laps.
In total, he has accrued 20 top-five and 69 top-10 finishes across 461 starts in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, as well as two poles and a playoff appearance in 2014 with Richard Childress Racing.
Menard also has three Xfinity Series wins to his credit.
But even though he hasn’t necessarily had the success he’d have liked to have on paper, Menard said he’s enjoyed his time in the Cup Series, and he’ll miss the people he’s met along the way as he transitions.
“It definitely comes back to the people,” noted Menard. “That’s easy. Just the weekly travel with the road crew, working with the crew chief, the engineers and seeing people that I’ve worked with in the past in the garage area. Those are the things I’ll miss in the next chapter.
“The racing and the cars is a big part of it, and I’ll still do some racing in some aspect, it just won’t be 38 weeks a year anymore,” Menard continued. “But the relationships I’ve built, from my first year in the garage area in the Busch Series (now Xfinity Series) in 2003 with Andy Petree, all the way forward … I’ve met a lot of really great and interesting people and a lot of characters along the way.
“Those are the memories that you keep with you.”
Menard tipped that he may spend some time working with his family’s Midwest-based home-improvement chain after the end of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November, and that any future involvement with Team Penske from an executive or business standpoint outside of the Menard’s sponsorship of the Penske Indy car and NASCAR teams “would be determined later.”
As far as what he’ll do next from a racing standpoint, however, Menard was as coy as he’s always been.
“Maybe ice racing?” Menard quipped. “Ice racing is a lot of fun. I don’t know, in a few years we might build a bad-ass ice racing car.”