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Xfinity Series Spotlight: A Q&A with Brendan Gaughan

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Brendan Gaughan hasn’t had “that big crash” yet.

It’s the crash that 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones once told the 42-year-old driver would be the sign it was time for him to get out of the business.

Brendan Gaughan drives his No. 62 Chevrolet at Iowa Speedway. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

“This was when I was young,” Gaughan told NBC Sports. “(Jones) goes, ‘trust me. You’ll know that crash when you have it and the first thing that goes through your mind is, ‘you know, the family business isn’t so bad right now.’

The family business happens to be the operation of the South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa in his hometown of Las Vegas

Gaughan’s first big crash occurred in the late 90s and it was a hot one.

“We crashed, big fireball,” Gaughan says. “Forty-foot fireball into the air, fuel cell to fuel cell, huge explosion. Lost an eyebrow because I had my visor up. Broke two ribs. Get out of the race car and I’m laying in the grass, trying to catch my breath and I’m dying and remember going, ‘That was a brand new race car, we just built it. No! No!’

“Then I remember rolling over and going, ‘That’s not the family business. I guess it’s not time yet.’ I remember saying to myself audibly out loud and that came from Parnelli. I can still say that to this day. I had a big crash at Kentucky a couple of weeks ago and unfortunately, even after I hit the wall, it was a hard hit, I still didn’t think about the family business being better. I wish I did.”

The Richard Childress Racing driver is still going at it and is currently 12th in Xfinity Series standings through 18 races, putting him on the bubble for the playoffs. In his sixth full-time Xfinity season, Gaughan is looking for his first win since 2014. It’s been a challenge, as the No. 62 team has just four top 10s. At this point last year, he had eight.

But Gaughan is confident the month of August will be kind to him.

“We’re going to win a race in August,” Gaughan said. “The whole month of August is probably the greatest month NASCAR has ever put together. … You look at what we go to, you go Watkins Glen, Mid-Ohio, Bristol, Road America and you begin September with Darlington.

“You name me a month of racing that is more action-packed, worth more. You’ve got Bristol, the Colosseum of our sport. You’ve got Darlington, arguably the most difficult place in the history of NASCAR to race. Then you’ve got three road courses, two of them are still completely, fundamentally sound not NASCARized road courses, which are tough as nails and you’ve got the best NASCARized road course in the country (Watkins Glen). If they added the boot I would put it back in the unbelievable category. But it is still a road course that has penalty and still has some proper technique to it. It’s just the best month of racing ever. ”

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed:

NBC Sports: Last year with the race at Mid-Ohio in the rain-

Gaughan: That was the greatest NASCAR race of my life, by the way. Twenty years in this sport, Mid-Ohio was the greatest NASCAR race ever!

NBC Sports: It was the craziest thing to watch, what was it like for you getting through that race?

Gaughan: Unbelievable. It was awesome. I am so proud that NASCAR didn’t stop us, that they let it go. It was so much fun. I have never had that much fun behind the wheel of a stock car. I had the entire right side of the race car ripped off. I had water flowing into the race car in buckets. I went from 30th to third or fourth to 30th to eighth to 30th to fourth. Me and Andy Lally, Andy Lally in an underfunded team kicking everybody’s butt (on) when to put tires on, when to take them off, when to put them back on because (the rain) started again. That race right there was the greatest NASCAR road race, if not the greatest race of my life. I had so much fun.

NBC Sports: If you could add any track to the Xfinity schedule, what would it be?

Gaughan: I would have to start with Laguna Seca, because I’m a road racer and I think that and Road America are my two favorite road courses in the country. If you’re talking oval, I wish we still went to Monroe, Washington. It doesn’t have the facilities to hold us. I wish there was a track up in the (Northwest) somewhere, I miss that area. … You know, the only track I can think of, I would like to go back to Memphis. I loved racing in Memphis. It was a great town, great short track that was tough as nails to drive. I would love to go back to Memphis.

Brendan Gaughan talks with teammate Ben Kennedy in May at Talladega Superspeedway. (Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: At RCR you’re the grizzled veteran among a lot of baby-faced guys. How easy is it for you to relate to those guys who are half your age?

Gaughan: Well, look I can still drive a race car better than most, that’s the nice thing. There are things they do that I can’t. They do those simulators and they run the hell out of them and can spend hours in it. Me, not so much. They keep me young. The little jokes me and Brandon (Jones) do to each other, that keeps me young. I have fun with it. And when they need me, I’m not the guy that’s in your face to coach. I’m not like certain guys that love to be paid to be a driver coach or in your face and all aggressive about it. If you need me, I’m here. And that’s what I’ve told every single one of them. And when they need me, I give them the best advice I can give them after 20 years of being in this sport and I do my best to answer the question for you and it’s work great.

NBC Sports: Are your sons Michael James, 6, and William Ryland, 4, showing any interest in auto racing yet?

Gaughan: Not as long as I can help it. Look, I hope that my boys want to race in the desert like I did. Like I will do even when I finally hang this up. I’m going to race until I’m 80. I’ll be racing the stuff I want to race and where I want to race and when I want to race and how I want to race. That’s what me and my family have always done. We love racing. My father still races in a race every year. We are racers. So if my boys want to race in the desert and have fun and do a hobby, which is what me and my brother did, God, I want that more than anything because it’s such a fun hobby. … It’s so enjoyable. As a family, as a group. But I don’t care to have them be NASCAR racers. I’ll let them go do something smart with their brains instead of beating against concrete walls.

NBC Sports:  Have you ever named a car or race car?

Gaughan: Lots of them. At the old Orleans racing team, the old South Point racing team … the guys named just about every car out of that shop. “Lone Star” is the most famous one. That’s the truck that got me into the Texas Motorsports Hall of Fame. It won all four races in a row at Texas (Motor Speedway). That truck raced six times in its career and it won four races. We used to save it just for Texas. … And it wasn’t because it won four times at Texas. That’s not why it was called ‘Lone Star.’ … ”Because only one man dare give me the raspberry.’ Space Balls. One of our favorite movies is Space Balls.

NBC Sports: What’s on your bucket list that’s not related to racing?

Gaughan: My kids did it this summer and I’m still pissed that daddy didn’t. For me it’s dive with a whale shark. The kids swam with a whale shark this summer when they were on the boat and I couldn’t go. I had work to do. They went down and wound up freakin’ swimming with whale sharks. I was so pissed off. I was still happy for them, but I was still pissed off!

NBC Sports: Why the whale shark?

Gaughan: It’s the gentle giant of the world, man. One of the biggest fish in the sea and it’s gentle. The kids were swimming inches from it and it has no desire (to attack). It’s just a sweet, gentle, beautiful creature. It has a mouth that could swallow my child whole and not even think twice about it. It could swallow me whole and not think twice about it. It’s the beautiful, gentile creature. That’s what I’ve been trying to do, dive with one of them.

NBC Sports: If you were in the Cup race at Bristol, what would be your introduction song?

Gaughan: (Really long chuckle) I have a very bad sense of humor. So I like to do things that piss people off. It would depend on my mood going into the week. One of the songs I could probably use is, because people think what they want about people like myself and the background that I have and the upbringing I have, so part of me would (choose) Barenaked Ladies’ “If I had a million dollars.”

Previous Xfinity Series Spotlights

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

Brandon Jones

Daniel Hemric

William Byron

Spencer Gallagher

Cole Custer

Ross Chastain

Elliott Sadler

Ben Kennedy

Blake Koch

Brennan Poole

Matt Tifft

Tyler Reddick

Kyle Benjamin

Ty Majeski

Ryan Sieg

Dakoda Armstrong

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Xfinity Playoff Grid: Brendan Gaughan on bubble; Darrell Wallace Jr.’s presence lingers

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The Xfinity Series season is 17 races old and yet there’s only three series regulars locked into the playoffs.

Thanks to wins from eight different Cup Series regulars, only William Byron, Ryan Reed and Justin Allgaier have qualified for the postseason based on wins.

That leaves nine spots left to be filled on either race wins or points by the time the regular season ends in nine races.

Entering this weekend’s race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the drivers on the bubble are Blake Koch and Brendan Gaughan.

Koch, 11th on the grid, is 35 points above the cutoff. Gaughan is 12th and just nine points above the cutoff in a season where the Richard Childress Racing veteran has four DNFs and only two top 10s in the last seven races.

Below is the playoff grid through 17 races.

 

Though he hasn’t competed in the last five Xfinity races, the presence of Darrell Wallace Jr. is still felt in the series’ points standings.

Wallace last made a start for Roush Fenway Racing at Pocono on June 10, finishing the race fourth in points. But since then he has only fallen to 12th in the points standings.

This puts Wallace ahead of Gaughan, Ryan Sieg, JJ Yeley, Ross Chastain, Jeremy Clements, Brandon Jones and Spencer Gallagher, who have started all 17 races this year.

When this was noted on Twitter, Wallace gave his two cents in GIF form.

 

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Bizarre crash at start of the Xfinity race (VIDEO)

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SPARTA, Ky. – After waiting nearly 15 hours to race at Kentucky Speedway, some Xfinity drivers’ hopes of winning the Alsco 300 were over before the race began Saturday.

A multicar wreck began just before the green flag began to wave on the postponed race. Several drivers appeared to accelerate before pole-sitter Kyle Busch, who radioed his team that the green flag waved late.

Unlike on restarts, the flagstand controls the start of the race. Replays showed the green flag didn’t wave until Busch was outside the restart zone and nearly to the start-finish line.

Brandon Jones, Blake Koch, Brendan Gaughan and Ryan Reed were involved in the crash. Jones was eliminated in the wreck, and Gaughan was knocked out of the race after hitting the wall a few laps later.

Watch the video of the start above.

 

Kentucky Speedway answers drivers’ complaints: ‘I think we know what we’re doing’

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SPARTA, Ky. – Responding to driver complaints about how the surface of Kentucky Speedway was treated this week, track officials said they merely are doing what drivers said worked last year.

“I think we know what we’re doing,” Steve Swift told NBC Sports in a Thursday interview.

The vice president of operations and development for Speedway Motorsports Inc. (the 1.5-mile speedway’s parent company) said feedback was overwhelmingly positive after the July 2016 race when Kentucky treated the bottom groove in the wake of repaving earlier in the year.

After an additional layer of asphalt was added last October, Swift said “we felt we did the right thing, so we duplicated” it using its Tire Dragon machine on the bottom lane.

“I think what a lot of drivers are forgetting is this track was resurfaced,” Swift said. “It’s a brand new racetrack. So on a new track, you have to put rubber down in what is the groove, not what you want the groove to be.”

Swift said a treatment process to age the new pavement leaves dust in the bottom lane, which necessitates putting down grip by dragging tires. Texas Motor Speedway took the same approach in preparing its freshly paved asphalt for the race weekend in April.

“What we have learned from last year’s Cup race here on the new surface and in Texas is that if we can give them two to three lanes in the bottom, it creates better racing instead of doing the entire racetrack because we’re trying to make sure they can run at the bottom in lieu of not being able to run at all because it’s too dusty or dirty,” Swift said.

NASCAR veteran Brendan Gaughan became the latest driver Friday to implore the track to work on the upper groove, starting at the wall and working down the banking. Swift said that makes sense on older tracks such as Bristol Motor Speedway and Charlotte Motor Speedway (SMI treated both with a traction compound this season), but the priority on a new surface is establishing the bottom lane.

“If we would have worked just the top down, that would be the only place to have grip,” Swift said. “They wouldn’t go to the bottom because it would have been dusty and dirty. So that’s the reason we went to where they will want to qualify.

“Most repaves before SMI started doing this prep and aging on the tracks, we would have run a single-file race. We haven’t had that, they’ve been able to run two wide (at Kentucky last year and Texas in April). I think we know what we’re doing.”

Kentucky concentrated on the upper portion of the bottom groove, laying down a swath of rubber about 27 to 30 feet wide in hopes of preventing cars from getting too spread out.

“We’re trying to create that bottom area and give them a good 30 feet out there to run again,” Swift said. “Last week at Daytona, they’re running four wide on a 37-foot wide racetrack. This is a 74-foot wide racetrack in turns 3 and 4. To rubber up the entire racetrack doesn’t quite keep the cars in the same area racing each other. That’s the theory behind that, but it’s primarily because it’s a new racetrack was why it was concentrated on the bottom.

“We felt we have enough racing surface to give them multiple passes, multiple lanes (and) not to put them at the wall, where one car is 70 feet away from a car at the bottom of the track.”

Swift said the track doesn’t plan to work on the upper groove this weekend but could bring the Tire Dragon back Friday morning before Cup practice and the Xfinity race or Saturday morning before the Cup race. The traction compound also isn’t being considered as an option.

“At older racetracks, it worked out great,” he said. “On new racetracks with the rubber and a tire machine, we can get enough grip that it doesn’t require the spray.”

NASCAR drivers still were waiting  to hit the surface Thursday as rain scrubbed the first two Xfinity practices. Qualifying for Thursday night’s Camping World Truck Series race also was canceled.

Daytona provided a chance for drivers often overlooked to shine

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — They walked away with smiles but couldn’t shake one thought.

If only.

If only they had made a different move, put the car elsewhere or just had everything come together, they could have been in victory lane instead of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on Saturday night at Daytona International Speedway.

Still, a number of drivers who had not won this season posted their best finishes of the season.

  • Paul Menard, who has one career Cup win, placed a season-best third.
  • Michael McDowell, who has never won a Cup race, finished a career-best fourth.
  • David Ragan, who has two career wins, was a season-best sixth.
  • Brendan Gaughan, who races full-time in the Xfinity Series, was seventh for his best Cup finish since 2004.
  • Corey LaJoie recorded a career-best 11th-place result.

They were survivors in a race that had an event-record 14 cautions. Twenty-seven of the 40 drivers were involved in accidents, including Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano, Austin Dillon and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

That’s what restrictor-plate racing can do — shake up the results and give teams and drivers a better chance of winning than they would have at many other tracks.

Ragan, who has two restrictor-plate wins, was in position for Front Row Motorsports to score his first victory since 2013 at Talladega.

He led on the final restart in overtime but Stenhouse charged by to lead the final two laps.

“I missed my mark a bit coming to the white,’’ Ragan said. “I zigged when I should have zagged. It’s tough to block two or three lanes coming to the white flag. I missed it on that run. I’m just disappointed that I couldn’t close the deal.

“I should have moved to get (Ty Dillon) a little bit of a block and get down in front of (Stenhouse). Over the years, if you’re in those situations more, you just make better decisions on the fly. That’s the first time I’ve been leading like that in a green-white-checkered at a plate race in several years. I was probably a little slow to be looking in my mirrors good enough. I just didn’t know that (Stenhouse) and (McDowell) had that good of a run.’’

With that charge, McDowell scored a top-five finish. That was big because the team needs sponsorship. The sponsor on the car, WRL General Contractors is a company owned by team owner Bob Leavine and his wife.

“It’s nice to do this week after week,’’ said McDowell, who has five top-20 finishes in the last seven races. “We’ve been putting together solid runs. At the same time, coming to the line second, I thought I had a shot at (Stenhouse) but just they had such a big run behind I couldn’t hold them off.”

For as fast as Menard was with Clint Bowyer pushing him on the final lap, it wasn’t enough.

“I really did think I was going to win for a little while,’’ Bowyer said.

“I knew you were going to win if I didn’t,’’ Menard said.

Dillon looked to be in the right position when he restarted second but fell back and finished 16th.

“I wanted to do it so bad for (team owner) Bob Germain who gave me this opportunity,” Dillon said. “That is two close ones, and if you keep getting these close ones, you will get one eventually. We work hard every week, but not every week are we contending for wins. When it’s our chance, we make the most of it. So I am proud of the way we are growing as a team and we are leading a lot of laps any way we can.

“I just feel disappointed. Nobody went with me (at the end) and so that is kind of the pains of being a rookie, but I would have been mad at myself if I didn’t make a move right there. The move cost me a good finish but didn’t really determine what our day was.”

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