No retirement for Paul Menard anytime soon

SPARTA, KENTUCKY - JULY 12: Paul Menard, driver of the #21 Menards/Quaker State Ford, practices for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Quaker State 400 Presented by Walmart at Kentucky Speedway on July 12, 2019 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Silly season in the NASCAR garages may be in full swing, but driver Paul Menard was totally serious when discussing his status for next year.

Recent speculation on Twitter indicated Menard, whose father, John Menard, founded the eponymous home improvement chain, might be ready to step away from the sport in the near future. But Menard made clear at Kentucky Speedway on Friday that the future isn’t now.

“I have a good job, for sure,” said Menard, who is in his second full season in the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford. “I love the Wood Brothers. I love my race team. They are good people.

“I have a contract for next year. I guess it’s getting to be that time of year when people start talking about things. I have a contract and I love my team. We just have to perform better, that’s all.”

The Wood Brothers share a close association with Team Penske. Menard is currently 20th in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series standings, 53 points behind Ryan Newman in 16th (the last Playoff-eligible position).

“It’s certainly not where we want to be,” Menard said. “I feel like we have definitely shown some speed in the races. It’s just a matter of putting together the entire race, something we have struggled to do. It starts on Friday, or qualifying day.

“The package that we are dealt this year, it’s really hard to pass, and track position is as important as it has ever been. And when you qualify 15th, it’s hard to make up passes and get stage points and do the things you need to do to make the playoffs. The times we have qualified in the top 10 we’ve been able to get stage points and finish in the top 10 a few times. Track position is key. That’s something we’ve been working on, for sure, but it isn’t playing out to our satisfaction—but we keep working on it.”

SHORT STROKES

Three-time Kentucky winner Brad Keselowski topped the speed chart in final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice with a lap at 182.303 mph. Kurt Busch was fastest in opening Cup practice at 183.742 mph. Denny Hamlin topped the opening session in 10 consecutive lap average (181.131 mph). Daniel Suarez led that category in Happy Hour (180.697 mph). Those speeds are indicative that there is not much fall-off with the durable tires Goodyear provided for Saturday’s race…

The No. 00 Ford of four-time NASCAR Xfinity Series winner Cole Custer took four attempts to pass pre-qualifying inspection on Friday at Kentucky Speedway. After the third failure, car chief Eddie D’Hondt Jr. was ejected from the track. Austin Cindric overcame an L1 penalty for illegal body modifications (assessed Thursday), which included the loss of crew chief Brian Wilson for the weekend, and won the pole for Friday night’s Alsco 300.

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