Consistency finally drives Gaughan in truck series
By Ken Roberts
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
It was not long after returning to the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series last year when Orleans Racing driver Brendan Gaughan realized his team needed some continuity.
Gaughan, 30, of Las Vegas, had won six times on the truck circuit in 2003, with three poles, and he finished fourth in the driver standings. But he joined the Nextel Cup ranks in 2004 driving for Penske Racing. It was during that time the truck team ran into personnel problems.
"We went through six GMs and four crew chiefs in 2 1/2 years," Gaughan said. "We had all these GMs coming and going. We had no consistency on the shop floor."
Now the team has been a model of reliability. Charlie Wilson, the crew chief for Steve Park in 2005, is the general manager, and Tony "Rambo" Liberati is the crew chief.
"We're really starting to work well together," Gaughan said. "The general manager is finally a stable position."
Although Gaughan hasn't visited Victory Lane since Texas in 2003, the team is getting closer with each race. That triumph could come Saturday night when the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series makes its ninth annual stop at Gateway International Raceway in Madison for the Dodge Ram Tough 200. Qualifying is set for 4 p.m. Saturday and the green flag flies at 7:15 p.m.
For Gaughan, nothing would be better than a victory at the 1.25-mile oval-where he won in 2003 in the closest finish in the track's then seven-year history, holding off fast-closing Jason Leffler beating him by 0.222 seconds.
"This season has been a season of promise," said Gaughan (pronounced Gone). "We've switched all our chassis. We wanted continuity there. We picked up a guy (Tom Buzze), who is now my shop foreman. We wanted continuity there.
"When you lose driver, crew chief, general manger, half the team, shop foreman ... when you lose all these things, you never get the consistency back. It hurts. Since July, we've had three-quarters of the team together."
This season, Gaughan is 16th in the standings with 420 points and trails leader Mark Martin by 300, while earning $46,743. He has one top-10 finish (sixth at Martinsville on April 1) in the series' first four races.
"I have confidence in what's being done here," said Gaughan, a former basketball player at Georgetown who counts ex-teammate Allen Iverson as one of his best friends. "We have better people in our shop. We, I believe, now are a high-caliber, higher-quality shop than we were in 2003."
Gaughan enjoyed his successful 2003 campaign while earning $771,290. In 2004, Gaughan jumped to the Cup series driving the No. 77 Dodge. But that ride fizzled and Gaughan returned to the truck series in 2005 in a second truck for Orleans Racing behind primary driver Park.
Both the Cup ride and last year's truck performance - Gaughan finished 19th in points in 2005 - left the young driver questioning whether he was as good as many had said he was.
"I'd been beat on and told so many things," he said. "You start questioning yourself. Maybe it is me. You drive harder, and you wreck something. Then it was your fault. Then you don't go hard enough one week.
"Then you end up in the driver's circle of how do you make it work right. You forget. Then you get a good race car and you completely forget how to drive it. It happened in '04 and it happened in '05 a lot."
It hasn't happened this year, and Gaughan is determined to keep it that way.
"We are cautiously optimistic," he said. "We used to be the big boy on the block, and we're still trying to get our team back up there."