Brendan Gaughan Racing for a Championship Late in NASCAR Career
As Brendan Gaughan’s career dwindles down, he admits that there are no regrets, even if he fails to win a NASCAR championship. In what could be his last season, this might be the best shot he’s had in a long time.
Gaughan is in his 20th season as a NASCAR driver, starting off in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series as a crafty 21-year-old in 1997, when he ran one race for Walker Evans in the No. 20 machine at his home track, Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Since then, the Las Vegas native has raced his way up and down the top three national tours of NASCAR and has 10 career victories on his resume. But in 2016, as Gaughan puts it, he wants to lead Richard Childress Racing to the promise land.
Gaughan, now 40, is the “old guy” on the team that Richard Childress has assembled in the XFINITY Series. The other two members of RCR, Brandon Jones and Ty Dillon, have a combined average age of 22.5.
That’s not going to get in the way of Gaughan and want he wants to accomplish.
“The sport is all about the team you’ve got,” Gaughan told Speedway Digest. “You can definitely see that on the board. You see what teams have the best stuff. We’re not the best car right now, but that’s what is great about having this race team and I’m not concerned about it.”
Through 14 races in the 2016 season, the No. 62 car has a best finish of fifth at Talladega, with five other top-10 finishes. Currently, Gaughan sits sixth in the XFINITY Series points standings, 78 markers behind point’s leader Daniel Suarez.
The last time any of the three RCR drivers won a race in the XFINITY Series was 2014. However, Gaughan believes that the trio of full-time drivers for RCR will be among the championship favorites by the time the Chase rolls around. Being there for each other could separate RCR from other teams.
“Any time Brandon Jones or Ty Dillon need anything, I’m always more than happy to be there,” Gaughan said. “These kids nowadays race so much by the time they get here that it’s hard to say that they need much coaching.”
In his third year racing for RCR, Gaughan believes this is his best shot at the championship.
The tracks in the new Chase system are favorable to some drivers, Gaughan included. He runs well on the 1.5-mile racetracks, picking up one of his two-career wins at Kentucky Speedway. He has led 61 laps on the mile-and-a-half tracks, just under half of his 126 career laps led in the XFINITY Series.
Four of the seven races in the Chase are on 1.5-mile racetracks. Kentucky Speedway kicks off the Chase in late September, where Gaughan led a career-high 22 laps en route to his victory in 2014.
“I’m really happy with this new Chase format,” Gaughan said. “Even without it, we’re seventh in the points. We were only about two races out of a real striking distance in the old points system format. I really felt strongly coming into this year with the races that are in the Chase and with them adding the Chase format. It wasn’t just going to be strong for Richard Childress Racing, but myself.”
Since joining RCR, Gaughan has picked up the two solo victories of his XFINITY Series career. And though he wishes he had made the move earlier to the race team, he is in good company.
Determination is what has kept him going. Racing for Rusty Wallace Racing in 2009 and 2010 didn’t go as planned with a best championship finish of ninth. The move to RCR allowed him to instantly better that to eighth.
13 races have passed in 2016 and all three RCR cars are in the top six in points. The teams are said to be working closer than they ever had before and each driver can lean on each other for help. But for Gaughan personally, he knows what the No. 62 team needs to work on to get closer to winning races.
“We’ve got to hit these Happy Hour practices better,” Gaughan said. “We’re not good, but were not fine tuning that last little bit where we need to be. That’s what we are missing consistently from being top five and competing for wins. We’re consistently top 10, but were not consistently top five yet.”
Atop the No. 62 pit box sits veteran crew chief Shane Wilson. While compiling two victories in the Sprint Cup Series, the long-time RCR employee has 17 victories in the XFINITY Series, the last two coming with Gaughan.
This is the third season the duo has worked together and both years, they have finished in the top 10 in points. Winning those two races in 2014 and Gaughan having a career-high 14 top-10 finishes last year has the team confident going into the summer months.
Sitting comfortably in the points, 109 points above the Chase cutoff, the team can afford to take risks. In order to take that next step and win, the team needs to be near perfect, which started when they swapped rear tire changers with Austin Dillon’s Sprint Cup Series team. In order to be perfect, the driver and crew collectively need to put a full race together and not have a pit road penalty, loose tire, pit road speeding penalty, etc.
“We feel pretty strongly that we are going to make the Chase on points, but we want to win before we get there,” he continued. “Once we’re there, the races are very good for us. We’ve been doing a lot of engineering this year at racetracks. It’s been a lot of us practicing for the Chase and getting ready for it, trying to have our barrels loaded and our momentum swinging when that Chase hits.”
Gaughan prefers the Chase over other points systems. He likes the excitement that it has brought to the sport. The last two years the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway has been among his favorites to watch, with all the drama unfolding.
“In this points system it is so difficult to make up points,” Gaughan said. “Now, with a Chase format all that goes out the window and really all you have to do is beat the guy for a couple weeks and anything can happen. I love this Chase format. It has actually prolonged my career.”
Joe Gibbs Racing has dominated the series this season, winning nine of the 13 races, including both XFINITY Series regulars Erik Jones and Suarez winning races this year.
With many questions regarding Gaughan’s future beyond this season, he has publicly said that RCR is the race team he is going to race for until he opts to retire. But he knows this is his best shot at a victory after a reset in points after every three races in the Chase.
Unlike the majority of XFIINTY Series regulars, excluding Elliott Sadler and Justin Allgaier, Gaughan has raced against drivers in the Chase. In 2004, he raced the full schedule for Team Penske in the Cup Series, the inaugural year of the playoffs. He finished 28th in the standings that year.
That was the only year that Gaughan had a full-time Cup Series deal. Since then, he’s competed in 14 events with RCR, The Racer’s Group, Phoenix Racing and Premium Motorsports.
As long as Gaughan is competitive, he wants to race for championships. Though this might be his best shot, he could have more opportunities in the future.
“If I can keep getting sponsors on the racecars and keep winning races and running up front and competing for championships, I want to be here,” Gaughan said of his future. “When I can’t, I don’t want to be here.”
Dustin is a 20-year-old, currently studying journalism at Ithaca College. Albino has always wanted to report on NASCAR and beginning at the end of 2014 that is exactly what he did with Speedway Digest. Since that time he has become well-known around the garage area and is looking to attend even more races than he did in 2015.