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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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Chase Elliott leads drivers with career-best days at Sonoma

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Chase Elliott said his third Cup start at Sonoma Raceway, which ended with a career-best fourth-place finish at the road course, was a “lot more fun” than his first two trips.

Elliott, who also started a career-best third, earned his second top 10 and first top-five finish at the track.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver was one of four who placed in the top 10 for career-best finishes in Sunday’s race at the road course. The others were Erik Jones, Aric Almirola and Alex Bowman.

“I made a lot of gains, personally, I think, for me at this track,” Elliott told Fox Sports 1. “It’s been one of my worst.”

Elliott started and finished eighth in the race last year. He placed 21st his rookie season.

On Sunday, he positioned his No. 9 Chevrolet to finish Stage 1 in fourth and Stage 2 in second.

He was running second late in the final stage until Kevin Harvick and his fresher set of tires passed him with nine laps to go. Elliott was later passed by Clint Bowyer.

“To come here and have pace on Friday and qualify good on Saturday, and to have pace today, it was just a lot more fun,” Elliott said. “We had a fast Chevrolet all three days. And that’s nice to show up and get rhythm. We kind of had to pick our battles today. We elected to get some stage points and that set us back a little for that last stage, but I don’t think we had the pace that the leaders had.”

Elliott’s result was his fourth top five this season and his first in six races.

In his second Sonoma start, Jones started 20th and finished seventh, a significant improvement over his 25th-place finish from his rookie year.

The result came after his No. 20 Toyota suffered minor damage from contact with Michael McDowell at the beginning of Stage 1.

“It was a great day for us, really,” Jones told FS1. “I felt like it’s a little like a win for us. We were aiming for a top 15 today and to get a top 10 is just a bonus.

The result is Jones’ second top 10 in the last nine races.

Behind Jones was Almirola, who earned his first top-10 finish in seven Sonoma starts. His previous best result was 14th in 2015.

“We are just plugging away,” Almirola said. “As solid as they come. We are a top-10 car and this just goes to show me and all of our guys that we are a top-10 car everywhere. I have just run top 10 at my two career worst race tracks, Pocono (seventh) and Sonoma. If we can do that, that is incredible.”

Almirola, who helped put all four Stewart-Haas Racing cars in the top 10 for the second time this year, has earned career-best results at five tracks this season: Sonoma, Pocono, Phoenix (seventh), Las Vegas (10th) and Michigan (11th).

“It speaks true volumes about how great this race team is and how great our race cars are because they carry me at those two places where I know I struggle,” Almirola said. “I have tried really hard to become a better road course racer and I put a lot of effort into this weekend running the K&N (West) car to help me for today and it certainly did.”

Almirola placed second in Saturday’s K&N West race.

Another driver who pulled double duty this weekend was Bowman.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver placed ninth for his first Sonoma top 10 in three starts. He previous results were 29th and 31st.

“(Crew chief) Greg (Ives) made a good call on the box to I guess one (pit) stop that (in the final stage),” Bowman said. “It looked like some people two stopped it, but I don’t know, I still don’t feel like I do a very good job at these places, but I feel like I learned some today.  Definitely made some mistakes and there is plenty I can improve on to keep getting better and learning. That is all we can really ask for.” 

Daniel Suarez misses Sonoma top 10 after contact with Jimmie Johnson on last lap

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Daniel Suarez was on the verge of his first top-10 finish at Sonoma Raceway until he was spun by Jimmie Johnson on the last lap of Sunday’s race.

Suarez was running in 10th when slight contact from Johnson as they navigated Turn 4 sent his No. 19 Toyota around.

After recovering, Suarez managed to place 15th, one spot better than his 2017 result. Johnson went on to finish 11th.

“We started wheel hopping after 10 laps into a run,” Suarez told Fox Sports 1. “We just missed something with the brakes. … After finally we figured it out, I felt like maybe we had a top-10 car. We just got dumped on the last lap.”

Suarez said that Johnson apologized to him about the contact.

“I was loose, so it didn’t take a lot for someone to spin me out,” Suarez said. “He didn’t hit me hard, he just put his bumper there a little bit. It was enough to spin me out because I guess I was loose already. We came from a little rough few weeks and a top 10 was going to be nice for us.”

Suarez has not finished better than 15th in the five races since he placed third at Dover.

What Drivers Said after Sonoma race

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Martin Truex Jr. — Winner: “Last year, I felt like we had the best car, and we didn’t win and then this year I wasn’t sure we could beat (Kevin Harvick). We were real equal. He was better early in the race. I felt like we caught up to him a little, but he was going to be hard to beat either way. To get off strategy was the perfect call and then you just hope it works out for you, so sometimes you’re the bug, sometimes you’re the windshield.”

KEVIN HARVICK — Finished 2nd: “I don’t really know what is going on up on the pit box and who is doing what. I just do what I am told. Those guys do a great job. You make some right ones, you make some bad ones and sometimes you guess right and sometimes you guess wrong. Who knows what is right or wrong. I thought that was a good call at the end to put tires on in case the caution came out. We got right back up to where we were running and put ourselves in position to have a chance in case the caution came out.”

Clint Bowyer — Finished 3rd: “I am happy to be in this equipment and have this opportunity, but I am also frustrated because we were one of the three that were the class of the field and had a legitimate shot at racing for a win. They just took a little different strategy than we did and that is what it took. You had to separate yourself some way. It was a lot of fun out there. I had my struggles just like they did. It seemed like (Kevin Harvick) had a little better turn than I did, and (Martin Truex Jr.) was better. On long runs, I was coming to him, especially that real long run we had. Then we started pitting, and I didn’t know what to expect. All in all, it was a solid day, and I am proud of the guys for going out there and getting the job done. We just came up a little short.”

Chase Elliott — Finished 4th: “It was a lot more fun, this trip out here, than it was the last two times. I made a lot of gains, personally, I think, for me at this track. It’s been one of my worst. To come here and have pace on Friday and qualify good on Saturday, and to have pace today, it was just a lot more fun. We had a fast Chevrolet all three days. And that’s nice to show up and get rhythm. We kind of had to pick our battles today. We elected to get some stage points, and that set us back a little for that last stage, but I don’t think we had the pace that the leaders had. So, it was a good finish for me, and we’re looking forward to the next road race.”

Kyle Busch — Finished 5th: “I thought we had enough to beat (Chase Elliott), maybe. That’s where our strategy put us there. Overall a good day for us. We struggled being able to find speed here, and I don’t know, it’s just a little bit each lap. There’s a few areas on the track where I kind of lack at, but it’s hard to make up that ground and then beat somebody that is so good here like (Martin Truex Jr.) and (Clint Bowyer). I feel like those guys all have that and we’re just the best of everybody else.”

Kurt Busch — Finished 6th: “I went 12 rounds, and there should be no-decision today. I feel like we gave it everything we could. We didn’t have superior lap times in the beginning and then we figured we would just do a two-stopper at the end. That is what won it last year but I was on a three-stopper last year and a two-stopper this year. I feel like we did everything we could to just find the right rhythm and you never know when yellows will come out, but we were in position. We were a top-five car and couldn’t quite hold off my little brother at the end. We battled.”

Erik Jones — Finished 7th: “It was a great day for us, really. I felt like it’s a little like a win for us. We were aiming for a top-15 today and to get a top-10 is just a bonus. We struggled a bit on the first run. Once we got an adjustment under it, and I started to get settled in and comfortable with racing through traffic, we just kind of started plugging along and picking up spots. Our strategy worked out for us.”

Aric Almirola Finished 8th: “We are just plugging away. As solid as they come. We are a top-10 car, and this just goes to show me and all of our guys that we are a top-10 car everywhere. I have just run top 10 at my two career-worst racetracks, Pocono and Sonoma. If we can do that, that is incredible. It speaks true volumes about how great this race team is and how great our race cars are because they carry me at those two places where I know I struggle.”

Alex Bowman — Finished 9th: “Yeah, Greg (Ives, crew chief) made a good call on the box to I guess one-stop that. It looked like some people two -topped it, but I don’t know, I still don’t feel like I do a very good job at these places, but I feel like I learned some today.  Definitely made some mistakes and there is plenty I can improve on to keep getting better and learning. That is all we can really ask for.”

Chris Buescher — Finished 12th: “Yeah, it was a good finish there at the end. I’m proud of this team for the work put in this weekend. I didn’t get as much out of qualifying as I needed to, and it put us a little bit behind there at the start, but through some excellent strategy and a good car, we gained a lot of points today.  It was a good day.  I enjoy road racing, something to break it up a little bit, and I’m ready for the next one.”

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. — Finished 18th: Even though we didn’t run up front all race, this race comes to down to attrition and pit strategy. Brian (Pattie, crew hief) made an excellent call resulting in my best finish here.”

William Byron — Finished 25th: “I felt like the biggest thing was just trying to learn the racetrack. The first run was really tough and after that I felt like our pace got a little bit better and improved. If I could have started the weekend where I finished the race, I feel like I have a much better idea what I needed. Now we will go back and write some notes to see how we can improve for the next road course race.”

Ty Dillon — Finished 33rd: “Today wasn’t the ending that we wanted, but I’m not going to let a mechanical issue bring this team’s morale down. There were bright spots this weekend that are worth focusing on. This is only my second time ever racing here, and I continued to learn more about how to get through this course.

Jamie McMurray — Finished 37th: “Something with the oil pump pulley mechanism broke. I really don’t know. They were going to try to fix it, but when that breaks, the engine shuts off on its own like in an oil protection mode, and we started the engine a couple of times, we kind of tricked the engine to not think it was in that mode. And so, I think they were a little worried now that maybe it ran too long and  … we are not going back out.  They are going to work on it for a while, so our day is done.”

AJ Allmendinger — Finished 38th: “I haven’t missed a shift on a road course in 10 years. It was just me. I was trying to be so patient and so smooth. It was unexpected. It’s on me. I let everybody down here. The car was good. I don’t know if it was a race-winning car. We needed a little work on the long run, but it’s just all on me. I don’t know what else to say. I just let everybody down.”

With fewest Cup winners through 16 races since 1978, who’s in playoffs on points?

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With 10 races remaining in the regular season and 10 spots still up for grabs, the points battle remains fierce in NASCAR’s premier series — and most of non-winners held serve Sunday at Sonoma Raceway.

There was only minor shuffling among those without a victory who still are vying for a playoff spot. Ryan Blaney (11th) fell two spots in the rankings, while Kyle Larson (ninth) and Aric Almirola (10th) each gained a spot.

But all still hold provisional playoff spots along with Brad Keselowski (fourth), Kurt Busch (seventh), Denny Hamlin (eighth), Jimmie Johnson (12th), Chase Elliott (13th), Erik Jones (14th) and Alex Bowman (15th). Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (16th) is 17 points behind Bowman for the final provisional playoff spot.

Sonoma marked Martin Truex Jr.‘s third victory this season. Other winners who have clinched playoff berths in the 16-driver field for the 10-race playoff that begins Sept. 16 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano and Austin Dillon.

The last time there were so few winners through 16 races was 40 years ago. In the first 16 races of the 1978 season, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Benny Parsons, David Pearson and Darrell Waltrip had accounted for all of the wins.

Kyle Busch, who finished fifth at Sonoma, remains the leader in the 2018 points standings by 72 points over Kevin Harvick (second Sunday to Truex). Winning the regular-season championship results in 15 playoff points, vs. 10 for the runner-up.

Click here for the Cup Series points standings after Sonoma.