Vegas Rules: How Brendan Gaughan keeps racing from defining himself

(Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)
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FORT WORTH — Brendan Gaughan has two names.

The one race fans know was given to him on July 10, 1975, by Michael and Paula Gaughan.

It’s the name that’s been displayed on the side of every race car he’s driven since he began off-road racing at 15. It’s now on his No. 62 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series that he will drive for Richard Childress Racing this weekend at Richmond International Raceway.

That name is the one an older fan wants him to sign on a “hero card,” a request that briefly interrupts an interview earlier this month with NBC Sports in the garage area of Texas Motor Speedway.

Despite being raised in Las Vegas and having his diaper changed by at least three dozen of the employees at his father’s casino, South Point, not everyone in “Sin City” knows his face or his occupation.

But Vegas is Vegas. Sometimes you have to take on another name when the situation arises.

“I most of the time lie to people about what I do for a while,” Gaughan says. “Especially in Las Vegas. I’m not going to tell you my fake name. But I had a fake name. It was one of my best friend’s growing up. It was my fake ID for a number of years.”

Whatever the name, that’s how he introduced himself to his future wife, Tatum, in 2005. Though both are Las Vegas natives, their paths crossed in a tourist bar one night.

“I was in town with some friends of mine from the military that wanted to go out and party and she was with her brother’s ex-girlfriend that was just turning 21,” Gaughan recalls.

He was accompanied by his Camping World Truck Series crew chief in addition to his military buddies. But for a little while, they were none of the above. Because in Las Vegas, “you have to make up a good story,” says the driver.

“We told her we were hot air balloon racers,” Gaughan says. “When they chuckled and said ‘OK, what do you really do?’ We said there’s a NASCAR crew chief, a NASCAR driver and two special forces military, she looked right at us and said ‘OK, where’s the hot air balloon race?'”

“That was more believable than the truth.”

FAMILY PERKS

Brendan Gaughan’s truth comes from having three families. The one he’s related to, the one he played basketball with and the one he races with.

The journey to becoming comfortable with himself began with his father.

While Michael Gaughan’s hobby was off-road racing, he allowed his children to figure out who they were and what they were good at with his endorsement. Brendan Gaughan took advantage of the perk.

The piano?

“Sucked.”

Guitar?

“Sucked.”

Karate?

“I’m a second-degree black belt in karate,” Gaughan says. “I loved karate. I was good at it, so I did for a long time.”

In the Gaughan family, there was no pressure on Gaughan or his siblings to be “phenoms” in any sport. At Bishop Gorman High School, the “small Catholic school” he attended, everything was on the table.

“When the swimming team was in, you swam,” Gaughan says. “When the volleyball season was in, you played volleyball. When the baseball team was playing, you played baseball. I played everything. When you were good at stuff, you did it.”

Was there anything his dad didn’t approve?

“I still to this day say if I wanted to be a ballerina, my father would have looked at me, gritted his teeth, bought me a tutu and taken me to class and hoped that I didn’t do well,” Gaughan says.

Even with a young racing career underway, including winning his first competitive race in the SNORE Midnight Special, the main thought in Gaughan’s mind was football. Recruited as a kicker, he had scholarships offers to Nebraska and Notre Dame .

But an injury led to a course change, landing the Las Vegas kid in the nation’s capitol to attend Georgetown University to play football.

However, it would be the basketball court in the Capital Centre that would leave the biggest impression on Gaughan.

A basketball court overseen for 27 years by legendary coach John Thompson.

ONE SHINING MOMENT

Gaughan remembers the shot well.

Outside of three free throws, it was the only shot he made in three seasons of playing basketball for the Georgetown Hoyas. It came in his junior year.

“Everybody loves making fun of the one basket,” says Gaughan, who played guard and wore No. 13. “It was a preseason NIT (game) vs Colgate. It was over Adonal Foyle, who played for the (Los Angeles) Clippers forever.”

At 5-foot-10, Gaughan put the shot over Foyle’s 6-foot-10 frame. He may or may not have seen the ball go in the basket.

“To this day, Allen (Iverson) and much of the team tell me I need to open my eyes next time,” Gaughan says. “But it was a beautiful bank shot, on (ESPN), with Bill Rafferty making the call.”

The moment is immortalized by framed screenshots sent to him by a friend, though it’s in storage while he renovates one of his houses.

“If you’re only going to make one basket, you’re probably going to have some memories of it,” Gaughan says.

Another thing he remembers is a motto.

The motto, instilled by Thompson, is represented by the little known symbol for the men’s basketball team – a deflated basketball.

“That deflated basketball comes with a statement that John Thompson has been saying since the 1970s, which is, ‘Don’t base your life on eight pounds of air,’ ” Gaughan says. “I always understood the meaning of that logo, and I’ve never let racing be what I was going to survive with.”

ELKHART LAKE, WI - JUNE 21: Brendan Gaughan, driver of the #62 South Point Chevrolet celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Gardner Denver 200 Fired Up by Johnsonville at Road America, June 21, 2014 in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Brendan Gaughan celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the  Gardner Denver 200 Fired Up by Johnsonville at Road America, June 21, 2014. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)

FAMILY MAN

At age 40 and 19 years into a NASCAR career that began the year he graduated from Georgetown, Gaughan has figured out what he doesn’t want to be.

“I don’t want to be one of those racers from the ’70s and ’80s where (their kids) said they never saw their dad,” says Gaughan. “I play Mr. Mom during the week and come here on the weekends and sleep.”

But he’s eager to get back to his boys, Michael James, 5, and William Ryland, 3. But they’re not in North Carolina, where many NASCAR families reside. They’re in Las Vegas. Gaughan returned to living there permanently in 2014 when he couldn’t stand being away from his family for too long.

“I was spending 18-20 hours apart from my family pretty regularly,” Gaughan recalled the day before in the TMS Media Center. “Luckily for me at RCR, there are seven guys on my race team that have been with me since 1999, 2000, 2002; they’ve been with me since I was in my early 20s. Life was getting difficult and they said ‘go home.’ ”

Gaughan believes going home worked. Within a short time, he won the Xfinity Series race at Road America –his first NASCAR victory in 11 years and his first Xfinity win in 98 starts. Thirteen races later, he was in victory lane again, at Kentucky Speedway.

“It’s actually what helped us win those races at the end of 2014 and what made us run so good last year,” Gaughan says. “My home life was much happier.”

When his children can’t be at the track, Tatum sends her husband video of them watching him race on TV. During the summer, the family relocates to North Carolina, but Gaughan only goes to his team’s shop when he’s needed.

Two decades into his NASCAR journey, the prospect of retirement is a tricky one for Gaughan.

“Every year I almost retire,” he says. “But it’s always been the same strategy in my eyes. If I can’t win races, I don’t want to be here and there was a stretch of my career where I didn’t win any.”

When he finally goes through with it, he’ll do what he did under the supportive watch of his father and the Las Vegas sun.

He’ll try something new.

RCR reveals sponsors for Kyle Busch’s No. 8 car in 2023

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Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, 3CHI, Alsco, Lenovo and BetMGM will return to sponsor the No. 8 team in 2023, Richard Childress Racing announced Friday morning.

Kyle Busch takes over the No. 8 in 2023 after spending the past 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing.

“Our business relationships are paramount to our organization and we’re proud to confirm that our primary partners on the No. 8 team will be returning to RCR in 2023,” said Torrey Galida, president of RCR, in a statement. “Their commitment to our organization is a testament to our team’s collaborative approach and the value it has delivered to so many great brands.”

RCR did not detail which how many races each company will serve as primary sponsor in 2023.

3CHI was the primary sponsor on the car 14 times this past season with Tyler Reddick, including the Daytona 500 and the team’s wins at Road America and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Lenovo was the sponsor on four races this past season, including Reddick’s win at Texas. Cheddar’s was the primary sponsor for four races this past year, including the Coca-Cola 600 and the season finale at Phoenix. Alsco served as the team’s primary sponsor in two races this past season, including the Las Vegas playoff race.

RCR also announced Friday that its deal with Cheddar’s is a multi-year agreement with the company that made its debut in the sport three years ago.

“We’ve loved partnering with RCR and the No. 8 race team since our debut into the sport three years ago, and we’re just getting started,” said John Felton, Senior Director of Marketing for Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, in a statement. “We’re excited to welcome Kyle Busch and Rowdy Nation to the Cheddar’s family, and we look forward to celebrating many wins to come.”

The 2023 Cup season opens with the Clash at the Coliseum exhibition race Feb. 5 before the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.

Milestones in reach for NASCAR Cup drivers in 2023

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While the countdown to the start of the 2023 NASCAR season in February continues, here’s a look at some of the milestones Cup drivers could reach in the upcoming season:

AJ Allmendinger

Allmendinger returns to drive the No. 16 for Kaulig Racing in 2023. He’s scheduled to make his 400th career Cup start March 26 at Circuit of the Americas, a race he nearly won last year.

Aric Almirola

Almirola is 26 laps away from leading 1,000 laps in his Cup career.

Ryan Blaney 

Blaney is scheduled to make his 300th career Cup start Sept. 24 at Texas in the playoffs. Texas was the site of his last Cup win, which came in the All-Star Race in May.

Chase Briscoe

Briscoe is scheduled to make his 100th career Cup start Sept. 10 at Kansas in the playoffs.

Kyle Busch 

Busch needs one win to set the NASCAR record for most consecutive seasons with a win. He is tied with Richard Petty with 18 entering the 2023 season, which will see Busch drive for Richard Childress Racing.

Busch is 92 laps away from leading 19,000 laps in his Cup career.

He is 34 starts away from tying Dale Earnhardt Sr. for 23rd on the all-time list of most career starts at 676. Busch is scheduled to tie Earnhardt’s mark Oct. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the playoffs and surpass the mark the next weekend at Martinsville Speedway in the playoffs.

William Byron 

Byron is scheduled to make his 200th career Cup start July 16 at New Hampshire.

Chase Elliott

Elliott is a win from scoring a victory in six consecutive Cup seasons.

He is 100 laps away from leading 5,000 in his Cup career.

Justin Haley

Haley is scheduled to make his 100th career Cup start Sept. 10 at Kansas in the playoffs.

Denny Hamlin

Hamlin is two wins away from 50 career Cup wins. That would tie him with Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett for 13th on the all-time victory list. 

Kevin Harvick

Harvick is scheduled to make his 800th career Cup start April 23 at Talladega.

He is 15 starts from tying Jeff Gordon for ninth on the all-time list for most career Cup starts at 805. Harvick is scheduled to tie Gordon’s mark June 4 at World Wide Technology Raceway and is scheduled to move ahead of Gordon on June 11 at Sonoma.

Harvick is 99 laps away from leading 16,000 laps in his Cup career.

He is five top fives away from having 250 in his Cup career.

Brad Keselowski

Keselowski is scheduled to make his 500th career Cup start June 4 at World Wide Technology Raceway.

He is 93 laps away from 9,000 career laps led in Cup.

Kyle Larson

Larson is scheduled to make his 300th career Cup start March 19 at Atlanta.

He is four top 10s away from 150 career top 10s.

Joey Logano

Logano is one win from having a Cup victory in 12 consecutive seasons, which would tie him for 13th on the all-time list with Denny Hamlin.

Logano is one top five away from 150 career top-five finishes.

He is nine starts away from tying Richard Petty for 19th on the all-time list of consecutive starts at 513. Logano is scheduled to reach that mark April 16 at Martinsville and surpass it April 23 at Talladega.

Tyler Reddick

Reddick is nine top 10s away from 50 career top 10s.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Stenhouse is scheduled to make his 400th career start in the season finale at Phoenix.

He is five top 10s away from 50 career Cup top 10s.

Daniel Suarez

Suarez is one top 10 away from 50 career top 10s in Cup.

Martin Truex Jr.

Truex is 16 starts from tying Jeff Burton for 10th on the all-time list of consecutive starts at 628. Truex is scheduled to reach that mark at June 11 at Sonoma and surpass it June 25 at Nashville.

Bubba Wallace

Wallace is scheduled to make his 200th Cup start June 25 at Nashville.

Sammy Smith to run full Xfinity season for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2023

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Sammy Smith will run the full Xfinity schedule in the No. 18 car, Joe Gibbs Racing announced Monday.

The 18-year-old Smith, a Toyota development driver, won the ARCA Menards Series East title for a second consecutive year in 2022 and also made nine Xfinity starts with JGR.

Pilot Flying J, TMC Transportation and Allstate Peterbilt will be sponsors on Smith’s car throughout the 2023 season. Jeff Meendering will be Smith’s crew chief.

“This is an opportunity I have been working towards,” Smith said in a statement from the team. “I can’t wait to get behind the wheel full-time and am looking forward to a great season. I learned a lot in 2022 that will really help me to be competitive and run up front in the Xfinity Series. Thank you to Pilot Flying J, TMC Transportation, Allstate Peterbilt Group, and Toyota Racing Development for supporting me in my racing career. I am excited for next year and appreciate the opportunity.”

Said Steve DeSouza, JGR executive vice president of Xfinity Series and driver development, in a statement: “Sammy is a fantastic addition to our 2023 Xfinity lineup. He proved to have the passion and the talent to necessary to compete for wins in the races he ran for us in 2022,” .“We are excited to get him in the No. 18 full time and know he will be competitive from the jump.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Racing through the numbers

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Some drivers carry one car number throughout their racing careers. The most famous racers in NASCAR’s 75-year history typically are associated with one number, although some have raced under several.

Victories, championships and driver personalities give life to something as generally mundane as a number. And the most popular produce even bigger numbers, as in sales of T-shirts, caps and other souvenirs.

Here’s a look at 10 of the most iconic NASCAR numbers:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. 43 — Since Richard Petty’s emergence as a superstar in the 1960s, the number 43 has been NASCAR’s most iconic. Although Lee Petty, Richard’s father, usually drove No. 42, he actually scored the first win by the 43, in 1959. The Petty blue No. 43 carried Richard to a string of championships. He scored 192 of his 200 race wins with the number. It rolls on today with Erik Jones, who took the 43 to the Southern 500 victory lane this season.

2. 3 — The fiercely facing forward No. 3 became ultra-famous while driven by seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt (although Earnhardt won his first title driving the No. 2). Earnhardt’s black Chevrolet carried the number to new heights, but Fireball Roberts, David Pearson, Junior Johnson, Buck Baker, Buddy Baker and Ricky Rudd, among others, also won in the car.

MORE: Where are they now? Buddy Parrott

3. 21 — The list of drivers who have raced Wood Brothers Racing’s famous No. 21, with the familiar gold foil numbers, reads like a history of NASCAR. David Pearson brought the most fame to the number, but Tim Flock, Curtis Turner, team owner Glen Wood, Cale Yarborough, A.J. Foyt, Donnie Allison, Neil Bonnett and Dale Jarrett also have driven the 21.

4. 11 — This number is responsible for more race wins — 228 — than any other. It also has scored eight championships — three each by Darrell Waltrip and Cale Yarborough and two by Ned Jarrett. Other stars in the 11 over the years: Junior Johnson, Bobby Allison, A.J. Foyt, Terry Labonte, Geoffrey Bodine, Bill Elliott and Denny Hamlin. And some guy named Mario Andretti.

5. 48 — This number was largely ignored until the arrival of Jimmie Johnson, who carried it to seven championships, including five in a row.

6. 24 — The number 24 was a lonely number until 1994 when a kid named Jeff Gordon drove it to its first win, in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. The brightly colored 24 became a regular visitor to victory lane from that point forward, carrying Gordon to four championships and becoming one of NASCAR’s most decorated numbers.

MORE: Will Kyle Busch follow footsteps of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning?

7. 18 — Although Dale Jarrett and Bobby Labonte won in the 18, Kyle Busch, draped in the bright colors of sponsor M&Ms, took it into new territory.

8. 22 — NASCAR’s first Cup champion (Red Byron) and its most recent (Joey Logano) rode with the 22. The number has produced 87 wins over the years, including victories by Fireball Roberts, Bobby Allison, Ward Burton, Kurt Busch, Byron and Logano.

9. 2 — Although the 2 carried Dale Earnhardt (1980) and Brad Keselowski (2012) to Cup championships, it is perhaps most identified with Rusty Wallace, whose menacing black No. 2 was powerful at Team Penske. Also successful in the 2: Bill Blair, Kurt Busch and Austin Cindric, this year’s Daytona 500 winner.

10. 9 — The 9 was basically nondescript until Bill Elliott roared out of the north Georgia mountains to turn it into a big winner in the mid-1980s. His son, Chase, continues the trend.