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.”
With eight restarts on the afternoon, Logano controlled all but one, when he got passed by Chase Elliott. That was the only stint of the race in which the No. 22 Ford was not out front for a significant amount of laps, other than green flag pit stops.
Winning from the pole at Michigan is something that Logano has done in the past. In 2013, he started out front, finishing out front, in what was his first victory with Team Penske. The triumph came in Ford's backyard, as their headquarters are in the Detroit area and Adsel Ford II was in attendance for the victory.
"Everyone did a good job at understanding what this package was going to do and put together a great racecar for me," Logano said of his victory. "It was a lot of fun racing with Chase [Elliott] there at the end and [Kyle] Larson. They had the restarts figured out down on the bottom pushing each other. We've been knocking on the door of a victory all season, but it's nice to get that win and lock ourselves into the Chase."
This is Team Penske's 99th career victory in the Sprint Cup Series and the third victory of 2016 for the organization.
The 400-mile event was a bit unusual compared to Michigan standards. NASCAR brought a new aerodynamic package, hopeful of using this package in 2017. Most of the drivers throughout the field liked it, as like most races this season, it put the racing back in the drivers hands.
Elliott recorded a career-best second-place finish at Michigan. The No. 24 car was out front for 35 circuits, after leading 51 laps last week in Pocono.
Logano got around Elliott on a restart with around 50 laps to go. He slid out of the groove and fell back to fourth. On the resuming restart, he pulled his Chevrolet back up to second, where he would remain the rest of the race.
"You can't do dumb stuff to win these races," Elliott said post-race. "It was completely my fault. The guys gave me a fantastic car today. That one was on me."
Kyle Larson remained in the top five for the majority of the event in Michigan. Coming home third is the No. 42 team's second top-three finish in the past four races and now sits 19th in the championship standings, 23 points outside of the Chase cutoff.
"I'm not sure that there was anything I could have done there," Larson said of finishing third. "I was pretty tight there for two or three laps, sometimes for a full run. Staying out front the whole time was a big key. The Target Chevrolet was definitely a third or fourth-place car."
Brad Keselowski finished fourth at his hometown track and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five after starting in 29th.
Carl Edwards finished sixth, while Tony Stewart came home seventh, after spending much of the day inside the top five. Austin Dillon rebounded after a possible left rear tire failure passed halfway to finish eighth. Jamie McMurray was ninth and Kurt Busch completed the top 10.
Many of the big name drivers, including Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kyle Busch all faced difficulties on Sunday.
On Lap 54, the No. 18 car was on fire. On the next restart, Chris Buescher got loose and up into Earnhardt who smacked the outside wall, finishing 39th. Hamlin brought out the final caution with under 10 laps to go when he cut down a left rear tire and spun to the inside wall.
The Cup Series is off next week, but will resume in two weeks at the first road course of the season, Sonoma. The younger Busch is the defending winner at that event, which was his first of five victories in 2015.
Keselowski was out front for the previous 49 laps, before being passed by Larson. Once he was passed, the 2012 Cup Series champion was trying to find a lane on the track that would close the gap between the No. 42 car and he.
However, on the backstretch, making a move underneath the No. 3 car, he made slight contact, ripping the entire right front fender off the machine. The damage caused crew chief Paul Wolfe to make heavy repairs with bare bond and any tool possible to make the car competitive.
Staying on the lead lap, Keselowski fell back to 24th, needing a miracle to happen to regain track position.
"That was one of those Dover races that I don't think anyone will forget any time soon," Keselowski said post-race. "We ran really well and unfortunately got caught up while running second and leading a lot of laps. It knocked a lot of speed out of our Wurth Ford, but still competitive. I'm really proud of my guys to finish sixth."
With all the chaos that was Dover, when the checkered flag flew the No. 2 car was the highest finishing Ford.
In a race that saw 12 cautions, the Team Penske crew had the fortune of missing the majority of the big incidents. Keselowski was able to steadily work his way back through the field in the last quarter of the race to capture his fifth career top-10 result at Dover.
"We caught some breaks with that big wreck it probably gave us five or six spots," Keselowski elaborated. "We kind of crawled from there. We restarted ninth and drove up to sixth so that's very respectable."
Through 12 events, Keselowski has two victories, more than all of last year. On Sunday, the No. 2 crew showed that the never give up attitude is a motto that the team has installed.
Joey Logano wins the pole for the STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway for the third consecutive time with a speed of 97.043 mph. Logano joins the elite group of Glen Wood, Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon, and Mark Martin to win three consecutive poles at Martinsville. Logano was able to top the speed chart in all three rounds of qualifying.
“We figured out the qualifying part really well. We really want to be able to win this race. It’s something we’ve been so close too. We have a little extra motivation coming up here this week to be able to show what we are made out of. Its nice to be able to go up here and do what we know how to do, execute qualifying like we know how to at this racetrack. Ever since we unloaded this morning, it was at the top of the board. It’s a fast race car. We knew that, we just have to keep our heads in the game,” said Logano in his media availability after qualifying.
Kasey Kahne showed to be strong in qualifying. He will start second in Sunday’s STP 500. This is his second time starting in the top-10 in 2016.
“It was really good to get quicker each round. Each round we gained speed, and that was the key. Coming up here today, my main goal was to qualify, and try to figure out how to get the best pit stall that we can. That means a lot on Sunday. In and out is a huge part in starting position, especially under the cautions.”
The threat of rain was a major factor in today’s qualifying session. Teams were constantly checking the radar to see when the best time will be to make a qualifying run. Luckily, qualifying was able to get in its entirety.
The First Round of qualifying still had the heat from the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series final practice. However, Joey Logano topped the board with a speed of 97.237 mph. In order to get a fast speed, drivers were taking up to five laps in their run. The “King of Martinsville”, as of late, Jimmie Johnson was barely able to advance to the second round. Notable drivers who were unable to advance to the second round were Carl Edwards (25), Austin Dillon (29), and Danica Patrick (28). 39 drivers were able to take laps at Martinsville; however, Reed Sorenson did not make a lap, but will still make the race.
In between rounds, problems arose in the brakes for Chase Elliott. Chase told his team on the in-car radio that the brakes would not work until he was about halfway pressed down on the pedals.
The second round of qualifying was lead by Logano with a speed of 97.679 mph. In the last seconds of this round, Kahne was able to jump from position 13 to P4 to bump Ricky Stenhouse Jr. from advancing to the third round. Notables who were knocked out in this round include Martin Truex Jr. (16), Jimmie Johnson (24), Kevin Harvick (19), and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (21).