By Alan Tays, Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 18, 2004
DAYTONA BEACH -- Brendan Gaughan has bad memories of his last trip to Florida. He came to Homestead-Miami Speedway in November expecting to go home with a Craftsman Trucks Series championship. But after seeing his truck wrecked and his championship hopes with it, he stormed out of South Florida, but not before spicing a live broadcast interview with a message that a rival team owner could kiss his, uh, bumper.
Two months later Gaughan returned, his wallet slightly lighter (he was fined $10,000 for his outburst at Homestead) but his outlook soaring. He's in the big leagues now, driving the No. 77 Dodge for Penske-Jasper Racing.
Gaughan (pronounced gone), 28, is one of Nextel Cup's rookie class of 2004, one-half dozen drivers competing full-time in NASCAR's top series for the first time. He joins Kasey Kahne, Scott Riggs, Johnny Sauter, Brian Vickers and Scott Wimmer.
"It just really depends on the team and equipment that's behind them," veteran driver Jeff Gordon said. "They're all very talented drivers."
Gaughan, like some of his fellow rookies, has the luxury of breaking in with an experienced multicar team.
"It's exciting to be here finally and exciting to be able to talk about it," he said, "and it's even more exciting to have the names of the people that are behind this organization.
"You end up with some small team owner named Roger Penske, some small sponsor named Kodak and another small owner named Doug Bawel with Jasper, so you end up with a pretty nice looking organization to start your rookie season with."
Surrounded by talent
Gaughan, a former Georgetown University basketball scrub who has won eight races in two full seasons in the Craftsman Trucks Series, replaces Dave Blaney behind the wheel of the No. 77 Dodge, which is now co-owned by Penske, Bawel and Rusty Wallace. Kodak has left its long association with the No. 4 Morgan-McClure team to become primary sponsor.
The No. 77 team will share information and resources with Penske's other Nextel Cup teams -- Wallace's No. 2 and Ryan Newman's No. 12. And as Penske did with Newman, he has enlisted the tutelage of retired NASCAR legend Buddy Baker for Gaughan.
Baker apparently has been able to accomplish something with Gaughan that no one else has -- get a word in edgewise.
"I say 'Yes, sir' and I shut up for a change," said Gaughan, who would be a runaway winner if NASCAR had a Most Loquacious award. "You guys might not believe it, but I swear that's what I do. I think he's been worth it. He's been on me pretty good."
"I'm looking forward to racing with Brendan," Wallace said. "I took him to the Detroit Auto Show and had a blast. He absolutely runs 300 mph. Everybody thinks I'm wide open. This guy is a little stronger than I am. He's having a good time with life, I'll tell you that. When we go out to Las Vegas, we'll get some good hotel deals."
That's a reference to Gaughan's father, Michael, who owns the Orleans Hotel and Casino among other properties and sponsored Brendan's Trucks team.
Gaughan is joined by Shane Wilson, who was the crew chief of Gaughan's Las Vegas-based Orleans Racing operation.
"We have that chemistry, which is what Mr. Penske and Mr. Bawel wanted," Gaughan said. "My goal is to make the guys as excited as I am, just like the guys in Vegas were."
Gaughan's excitement is sometimes viewed as cockiness -- a quality many veteran NASCAR drivers don't care for in a rookie. He's not trying to offend anyone, he says, but he's not your typical rookie and he doesn't plan to change.
"I'm not 18," he said. "I think a lot of these guys look at the 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds and think maybe they didn't pay their dues.
"I've been racing NASCAR for six or seven years now. I've been racing Craftsman Trucks, Winston West. I've kind of done what NASCAR would like us to use as stepping stones.
"My personality is my personality. I believe they hired me here because of the way I am, because of the things I tend to say...
"... Except what I said at Homestead."