By Brian Hilderbrand
LAS VEGAS SUN
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Brendan Gaughan is back at Daytona Intentional Speedway this week, but his accommodations are slightly different from a year ago.
Instead of parking his motorcoach in the park-like gated area reserved for NASCAR's Nextel Cup drivers, Gaughan set up his rolling residence on a grassy patch in the middle of Daytona's infield road course. Instead of reporting to one of the new garages the speedway has constructed for the Cup teams, Gaughan and his Orleans Racing crew are set up in a fenced-in portion of asphalt -- with no garage stalls -- reserved for the Craftsman Truck Series.
In other words, after spending a season in NASCAR's premier series with Penske-Jasper Racing, Gaughan finds himself on the outside looking in. And, he insisted, he likes the view.
"Right now, I'm having a great time again," Gaughan said as he relaxed in his motorcoach. "Now I walk through the Nextel Cup garage and say, 'Hey guys, I'm having more fun than you now.' This is the (result) of what I learned in Nextel Cup; they make it a lot more difficult than it has to be and they take a lot of fun out of this sport.
"We are going to go and show everybody that we are the most fun race team out there and in having fun, we're going to win a lot of stuff. I had a good time last year; it wasn't all downs, but there weren't as many ups as I wanted. The whole goal now is just to go out there and show them how fun racing can be and show them that at the professional levels of NASCAR, it doesn't have to be misery."
Gaughan, who was not retained by Penske-Jasper Racing at the end of the 2004 season, said he has no plans to return to the Nextel Cup Series this season. Instead, he will run 18 of the 25 Truck Series races while he works to rebuild his family-owned Orleans Racing back to the dominance it displayed in 2003, when Gaughan won six races and nearly won the series championship in the No. 62 Dodge.
Gaughan said he decided against running a full schedule this season so that he wouldn't hamper teammate Steve Park's chances of contending for the series championship.
"My main goal is to get Steve a championship and for me to win races for (my sponsor) Jasper Engines," said Gaughan, who will make his first Truck Series start of the season Friday night at Daytona. " I just want to do 18 races in the Craftsman Trucks -- I don't want to take all the resources from Steve Park and the primary function of the Orleans team.
"I want to win, I want to get Steve Park a bunch of wins and at the end of the year look and see if the Orleans Racing team returned back to its powerful form that we were in '03."
Gaughan, who said he plans to drive in a few NASCAR Busch Series races this season in a car owner by Rusty Wallace, has not ruled out a return to the Nextel Cup Series "if the situation is right." Clearly, his situation last season was not that.
"I do want to race Nextel Cup, but I want it to be on my terms now," he said. "What I mean by that is I get to dictate how long I'm there, ... that we're spending the money to get better, that I have a say that money gets spent not on a new motorcoach for the owner but on five wind tunnel dates and six new racecars. Those are the sorts of things, if I do something, that I want to have some assurances that it is going to be done a certain way."
Gaughan, 29, said he doesn't believe his rookie season in the Nextel Cup Series -- one in which he finished 28th in points and posted only four top-10 finishes in 36 races -- was a true measure of how is capable of performing at the sport's highest level.
"The day that it's proven to me that I can't do this job, I will gladly get out of the seat," Gaughan said. "I'm not going to sit around and be a guy that rides around, a guy that gets that reputation that he's not a very good racecar driver.
"But right now, nobody has come anywhere close to proving to me that I can't do it yet and I want to keep going."