Paul Menard quickly getting used to being in Chase

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CHICAGO – You’ll have to excuse Paul Menard if he feels a little out of place. It’s taken him a little while to get used to knowing he’s in the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the first time in his career.

“I feel good how we’re approaching it,” Menard said Thursday at NASCAR’s annual Chase Media Day. “We’re just going to put our heads down and go as far in this deal as we can.”

Menard kept a close eye on Aric Almirola in last Saturday’s race at Richmond. If Almirola had won, Menard would have missed the Chase yet again.

But this time it was Almirola who fell short – and Menard finally didn’t after eight previous seasons.

“I got out of the car and half of me was mad because we didn’t run very good, and then it kind of set in: We’re in the Chase and it’s a new ballgame now,” Menard said. “It was kind of bittersweet initially, but I woke up Sunday morning feeling pretty damn good.”

Menard couldn’t help but look back at how many times he has come close to making NASCAR’s playoffs, only to be disappointed every time.

“Since 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014, going into Richmond, we were in position to make the Chase, we had a shot at it points-wise,” he said. “And obviously, the last two years, if you win it, you’re in it.

“Points-wise, we were in a real good spot in 2011 and 2012 and saw it slip away in the summer. This year, it was a lot more consistency, we minimized mistakes. When we had a 15th-place car, that’s where we finished. This is just a lot more consistent year for us.

“It’s all what you make of it. Yeah, it sucked not making the Chase, for sure, and coming close. If you had a horrible year and weren’t even in contention for the Chase, it’d be different. But we were close for a few years and just could never seal the deal.

“But we did this year.”

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