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Gaughan ready for return to glory

By Brett Okamoto

The best moment of NASCAR driver Brendan Gaughan's life was so unbelievable, he thought it belonged to someone else.

As the Las Vegas native and member of the family that owns South Point Hotel & Casino, stepped up to the stage after a first place finish in the Camping Truck Series Las Vegas 350 in 2003, the crowd cheered so loudly that Gaughan, thinking they had announced another driver, backed away.

"It was the most amazing thing, the highlight of my life," Gaughan said. "Seventy-thousand people in the stands. I walked up to the stage for the intros and I swear I thought they had announced Dale Earnhardt Jr. I backed off because I didn't think it was for me. It's something I'll never forget and I'll cherish the rest of my life. Even if I win a Sprint Cup or Nationwide, it will never be as special as that one."

If Gaughan is to recreate the magic of that win this weekend at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it will have to be in a backup car.

The 33-year-old, competing in his first year as a Nationwide driver, was off to a good start Friday, finishing with the fastest time of the first practice round. His eagerness to get around the track hurt him in the final session though, when he tried to make a meaningless pass around a pair of slower cars. The other drivers didn't move over in time, pushing Gaughan into the wall and wrecking the South Point Hotel & Casino No. 62 Chevrolet. No one was injured in the crash.

"I just got impatient, I should have known better," he said. "My qualifying lap was killed anyway. I got out there with a couple slower guys who are probably 'go or go home' drivers, they were probably just trying to make the show on their qualifying run. The guy pulled down and I thought he was giving me the spot. He kept going to the corner and my nose followed and I ended up losing it and pitching it into the fence."

The wreck sent the Rusty Wallace Racing crew into action, salvaging what they could from the primary car to use in the backup. Gaughan is good to go for Saturday's 1:30 p.m. Sam's Town 300 Nationwide race, but as the wreck happened late Friday afternoon, he'll take a car he's never driven into Saturday's 9 a.m. qualifying.

Despite the setback, Gaughan isn't counting himself out.

"It's extremely frustrating, but for the first time in a very long stretch in my career, I'm not worried about the backup," Gaughan said. "I haven't driven this car yet, but it's been to the wind tunnel and everything about it says that it's going to be just as good as the other one. We're still trying to finish in the top 10.

If he appears surprisingly optimistic it's because Gaughan is thrilled just to be in the position he's in.

Four years after the amazing feeling of winning a Craftsman Truck Series race in his hometown, Gaughan experienced what he calls, "the hardest time of my life." In 2007, South Point Racing, the team started by his family, folded after eight years of growth.

Suddenly, on the heels of a failed deal to merge with another team, the Gaughan family had lost one of its most prized projects to bitter terms.

"There's a lot of images that stick out of that time, but none of them are quotable," Gaughan said. "The way it dissolved was very difficult and there were a lot of hard feelings between some of the things that happened. We had run that team since 2000, and worked really hard to build our shop and get where we had."

Gaughan joined Circle Bar Racing for one year before taking the opportunity to switch to the Nationwide Series with Rusty Wallace's team. If early indications are a sign of things to come, success could lie ahead for Gaughan, who currently sits eighth in the points standings and leads the Raybestos Rookie rankings.

Happy again after the disappointment of losing his family's team, the driver has never been more excited of the future. Even if that means using his backup car.

"To be able to stand here and have the ability to run in the top 10 every week, I think things ended up okay," Gaughan said. "We loved that race team and we loved each other and we let outside influences interfere and I promise you, the Gaughan family will never let that happen again.

"We learned a valuable lesson from it and now we're in a better place. It's true it's always darkest before the dawn."

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