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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Tire issues end race for Chase Elliott, Christopher Bell

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FORT WORTH, Texas — Chase Elliott, who entered Sunday’s second-round playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway leading the points, crashed and finished 32nd.

A right rear tire issue caused Elliott to lose control while leading on Lap 184 of the 334-lap race. 

He was the second playoff driver to be eliminated after tire issues. Christopher Bell finished 34th after having two right rear tires go down. After his second tire went down, Bell hit the wall. Cole Custer and Alex Bowman also had incidents after tire issues. 

Elliott did not score stage points in the first stage and was eliminated before the end of the second stage, leaving him with no stage points. Bell also scored no stage points. Bell entered the race in a three-way tie for the final three transfer spots to the next round. 

“To have two right rears go in the first half of the race is very strange,” Bell said. “I don’t know. It’s a very disappointing day. We are probably going to be in a deep hole now.”

The second round continues next Sunday at Talladega and concludes Oct. 9 at the Charlotte Roval.

 

RFK Racing reaps benefits of hard work with Bristol win, Texas pole

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When Brad Keselowski arrived at RFK Racing after last season, among the early changes he made included repainting the walls and restructuring the team’s shop.

They were meant to infuse an organization that hadn’t won a Cup points race since 2017 with a new look and feel. And help create a new mindset for the 165 employees.

“The first thing (Keselowski) started changing was colors,” Justin Edgell, tire carrier on Chris Buescher’s team, told NBC Sports. “Everything is satin black. My man is a satin black-type guy. I’m talking about trash cars. I’m talking about equipment. I like it. You know, look good, play good.”

RFK Racing has looked great the last week. Buescher gave the organization its first points win of the season, taking the checkered flag in the Bristol night race. Keselowski followed by winning the pole for today’s second-round playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on USA Network). Buescher starts today’s race 13th. 

MORE: Details for today’s Cup race at Texas 

It has taken much for the organization to experience a week like this. The season didn’t start well. Both Keselowski and Buescher failed to make the feature in the Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in early February. 

Less than two weeks later, they each won their qualifying race at Daytona. 

RFK Racing wouldn’t be back to Victory Lane until Bristol. In between were disappointments, close calls and plenty of work.

“We’re in a spot where with our company, we’ve made a lot of changes over the last six to 12 months,” Keselowski told NBC Sports after the team’s celebration on Monday. “And there’s a maturation cycle to those. 

“Nobody likes that maturation cycle. There’s still things that we’ve invested that haven’t matured. So there’s a lot of reasons for optimism, but we have a long ways to go.”

Having patience in such a fast-moving sport isn’t easy but it is needed.

“I wish we would have matured earlier,” Keselowski said,” but I ain’t going to look at gift horse in the mouth and scream at him. I will take it and we’re going to build off it. Right now we have two teams that are like 10th-place teams. Our last few weeks have shown that’s where we’re at in speed, that’s where we’re at in finishes. If we ran a whole season like that … we’d be a playoff team.”

When Keselowski spoke to the employees at Monday’s celebration, he told them to enjoy the moment. He also had another message for them.

“Winning at this level is really hard and it’s supposed to be hard,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of fight to get there this year. Certainly some good moments and some really tough moments. I’m really proud of all of us and the work that went in.”

Another key to the organization’s success finding common ground between those who had been at Roush before Keselowski’s arrival and the new hires and their ideas.

After working through those issues, which included how the cars were prepared, Graves saw progress.

“You step back and embrace it and look at it and it’s like, ‘OK, this makes sense,’” Graves said. “You can start to develop and build on some ideas that make progress.”

The results started to show. Buescher finished second at Sonoma in June. He was sixth at Road America in July. He placed third at Richmond ninth at Watkins Glen in back-to-back weekends in August. 

“It’s been really nice to go to these race tracks and be in the hunt, be up there at the front,” Buescher told the employees at Monday’s celebration. “We’re learning every week. We’ve made huge progress really through the whole year.”

Buescher and Keselowski combined to lead 278 of the 500 laps at Bristol. Buescher found himself toward the front late in the race. Graves made a two-tire call on the last stop. Buescher went from entering the pits fourth to exiting first when no one else made such a move. Buescher led the final 61 laps to win. 

Then he got to do something he hadn’t in years. 

A burnout.

“I’ve only been able to do like three in my career,” he told NBC Sports, noting he didn’t do burnouts in ARCA because he often needed those tires for another event. “Xfinity wins, we were able do do some burnouts. 

“After the Pocono Cup win, it was rained out so we just had to push it to victory way, so it’s been a really long time since I’ve done any legal burnouts in a race car. So that part was nice. 

“It was nice to actually be able celebrate on the frontstretch with the team the real way, in the moment, not hanging around for that that rainout. That’s what made it that much better in my eyes.”

Keselowski looks to join Buescher in winning a points race this year. In a season with 19 different winners, Keselowski admits it’s challenging to be among those who have yet to win.

“Now we are in a spot where we are ready to play some offense,” he said. “It is a good feeling. It comes with a pragmatic view and a lot of humility of being able to walk away from some races where you were legitimately 20th or 25th and go to work the next morning and say, ‘Alright, we aren’t going to burn the house down. We are going to repaint the living room and then we are going to go to the next room and work on it piece by piece.’

“The easy thing to do is to lose control over yourself. That is the easy thing to do. The hard thing to do is to work through it and be methodical in that approach.”

It’s an approach that has led RFK Racing back to Victory Lane.

Dr. Diandra: Surprises in playoff performance

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The first round of playoff performances defied expectations in both good and bad ways.

That is my excuse for why my very first attempt at making predictions was an abject failure. I projected Alex Bowman, William Byron, Chase Briscoe and Austin Dillon would be the first four drivers out of the playoff. Only Dillon failed to move on to the round of 12.

Of course, my algorithm did not account for Kyle Busch having two engine failures in three races. Especially after his not having had a single engine failure in the previous 92 races.

Nor did the algorithm predict Kevin Harvick’s Darlington race being ended by fire.

Or that none of the 16 playoff drivers would win even one of the first three playoff races.

On the positive side, playoff drivers took 11 out of 15 possible top-fives (73%), and 21 of 30 top-10s (70%.) That’s consistent with a season boasting 19 different winners.

Chase Elliott is the only driver to win more than two races this season. Drivers made the playoffs by finishing well rather than winning of lot of races.

Playoff performance by the numbers

In the table at right, I list drivers in order of points after Bristol — but before re-seeding. Red numbers indicate DNFs.A table showing drivers' finishing positions for the first three playoff races

DNFs played a major role in the first round. Each of the four eliminated drivers had at least one DNF. Harvick and Busch had two each. Both of Busch’s DNFs and one of Harvick’s were due to equipment failure.

Only three drivers earned top-10 finishes in all three playoff races: Christopher Bell, Denny Hamlin and Byron. Two of my predicted eliminations over-performed. And the one driver I expected to dominate the playoffs didn’t.

Relative to the regular season

Excluding equipment failures and crashes, one expects most drivers to perform, on average, at about the same level they ran during the regular season. That mostly didn’t happen.

In the first two elimination rounds, top 10s are enough to stay in the game. So that’s the metric I’ll focus on here.

The graph below compares drivers’ top-10 finish percentage in the first three playoff races to the same metric from the regular season.

A graph comparing the regular season top-10 rate to the top-10 rate in the first three playoff races to

Each arrow starts at the driver’s regular-season average and travels to his playoff average. Blue indicates playoff performance better than the regular season and red indicates the opposite.

Six drivers performed better than their regular-season averages would suggest.

Byron entered the playoffs seeded 10th with only five top-10 finishes in the regular season. With three top-10s in the first round of the playoffs, he earned the second-most points of any driver in the round of 16.

Hamlin had the second-largest improvement with two second-place finishes and a ninth. That continues his season-long trend of trying to overcome a slow start.

Bell’s 53.8% top-10 rate for the regular season doesn’t give him much room to improve. But he did. He’s also the only driver with three top-five playoff finishes.

Bowman, whose crew chief, Greg Ives, will retire at the end of this season, increased from 38.5% to 66.6% top-10 finishes.

“I think we are super motivated,” Bowman said, “because its Greg’s last 10 races with me and we want to end on a high note. We know the summer doesn’t matter anymore, our troubles, and it’s a good reset for us going into the playoffs.”

The biggest surprise, perhaps, was Elliott. He has the most top-10 finishes of any driver with 18. But only one came from the first playoff round.

Momentum

Driver finishes rise and fall throughout a season. The ups and downs are even larger this year because of the new Next Gen car. For that reason, it’s worth comparing playoff performance not only to the entire regular-season average, but also to just the last five regular-season races.

The arrows on the next plot start at the top-10 rate for each driver’s last five regular-season races and travel to their playoff rate.

A graph comparing the regular season top-10 rate to the top-10 rate in the first three playoff races to the last five races of the regular season

Seven drivers improved relative to their last five regular-season races — the six from before, plus Daniel Suárez. Suárez rose from 20% to 33.3%. That’s typical of a season that has been fairly consistent, but not at a level that will take him to the final four.

Byron’s turnaround is even more impressive in view of his having zero top-10 finishes in the last five races of the regular season.

“I think we had a lot of really good tracks in the beginning of the year,” Byron said. “As we started to chase some speed and chase some things, we got off a little bit throughout the summer.”

He believes the team has returned to where it needs to be.

“We know what works; we know what doesn’t work,” Byron said. “We definitely know what doesn’t work after the last month or so, so that’s a good thing.”

Joey Logano has the largest downward trend relative to the last five races, going from a 80.0% top-10 rate to 33.3%.

This graph shows Elliott’s playoff decline to be a trend continuing from the end of the regular season. That might be good news for the other drivers struggling to catch up with him.

Scoring and re-seeding

The table below summarizes points and playoff points earned during the three playoff races and each drivers’ final score before re-seeding. The lineup looks quite different than it did going into this round of three races.

A table showing how many points each playoff driver earned in the first round But that’s before re-seeding.

I hadn’t appreciated playoff points until I did the math. Each driver moving on to the round of 12 gets 3000 points, plus their total playoff points.

Because none of these drivers won a race, only five of the 21 playoff points available in the last three races impact the new standings. Bell won two stages; Byron, Bowman and Busch one each.

So we’re mostly back to where we were leaving Daytona.

A table showing the re-seeded rankings entering the second round of playoff racesRyan Blaney fell a spot. Byron’s dramatic turnaround didn’t impact his playoff standing. Most of Bowman’s move up the charts is due to eliminating the drivers originally ranked seventh, ninth and 11th.

The current standings reflect NASCAR’s eternal struggle between winning and consistency. On the one hand, I understand the desire to mimic other sports’ playoffs and not let the results of the last round impact the next. But carrying over regular-season playoff points means that Elliott returns to P1 despite having earned fewer points in the three playoff races than seven of the 16 drivers.

That’s why Bell, who earned almost twice as many points as Elliott and won two stages, ties for sixth place with Hamlin and Blaney. Elliott goes from 40 points behind Bell to 27 points ahead of him.

If Bell or any of the other remaining drivers wants to challenge Elliott, even top-five finishes won’t be enough.

In these playoffs, performance isn’t enough. You have to win.

Texas Xfinity results: Noah Gragson wins playoff opener

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Noah Gragson is rolling through the NASCAR Xfinity Series like a bowling ball headed toward a strike.

Gragson won for the fourth consecutive race Saturday, taking the lead with 11 laps left and winning the 300-mile race at Texas Motor Speedway. The victory put Gragson in the second round of the playoffs.

Finishing behind him in the top five were Austin Hill, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Riley Herbst.

Texas Xfinity results

The race was pockmarked by wrecks, scrambling the 12-driver playoff field.

POINTS REPORT

Noah Gragson remains the points leader after his win. He has 2,107 points. AJ Allmendinger is next, 26 points behind.

Sam Mayer and Ryan Sieg hold the final two transfer spots. They are one point ahead of Riley Herbst, eight points ahead of Daniel Hemric, 13 points ahead of Brandon Jones and 29 points ahead of Jeremy Clements.

Texas Xfinity driver points

The Xfinity playoffs will continue Oct. 1 at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET, USA Network).