Paul Menard ready to play defense to preserve Chase hopes

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Paul Menard is a realist. He’s in 12th place in the Sprint Cup standings and 14th on the Chase for the Sprint Cup grid.

Menard is 19 points ahead of the final driver on the grid, Clint Bowyer, and there’s two races remaining to make the Chase.

That’s why Menard has no preconceived notions of winning at Darlington (his best finish there has been 13th in eight starts) or Richmond (just one top-10 in 17 starts) to solidify his bid to make the Chase for the first time in his Sprint Cup career.

Rather than playing offense and going for the win, Menard said Friday that he’ll be playing defense and will be points racing in the final two pre-Chase races, figuring that will give him the best chance to protect his playoff hopes.

“No, we’re not comfortable,” Menard said at Road America, where he’ll drive in Saturday’s Xfinity Series race. “Honestly, I didn’t look at the points after Bristol.

“I think we’re around 40, 45 to the good (actually 54 points ahead of Aric Almirola, who is battling Bowyer for the final Chase spot), but that all goes away real quick. Clint’s coming on strong and has had a lot of top-10s.

“No, we’re not comfortable, but we feel good about our cars, we know how we need to race in order to survive and get the points. We probably won’t be that aggressive to get a race win. We’re just going to try and manage our points and do what we can there.”

Menard, who turned 35 on Aug. 21, is focused on Darlington on the Cup side. He’s not even thinking about Richmond at this point, even though his Chase chances could hinge on that race. While he’s enjoying being back in his home state of Wisconsin this weekend, he knows what lies ahead of him next week.

“Darlington is a tough track, where you have to run right near the fence and you’re going to hit the fence at some point,” Menard said. “So it’s just a matter of minimizing damage and not cutting down a tire.”

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