By Lee Montgomery, Turner Sports Interactive June 18, 2004
7:18 PM EDT (2318 GMT)
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- Brendan Gaughan already had a pretty good idea how to get around Michigan International Speedway, having scoring a dominating victory in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race here last year.
But plug in advice from Penske Racing teammates Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman -- who have six victories and 18 top-fives between them -- and Gaughan could be considered an MIS genius.
He looked like it Friday, qualifying his No. 77 Dodge in a strong sixth place after a 189.868 mph lap.
"Our truck was dominant here last year," Gaughan said. "We had a great Dodge, and it really kicked butt around this place."
In the NCTS race last year, Gaughan beat runner-up Ted Musgrave by almost 12 seconds, an eternity around the two-mile track nestled in the Irish Hills of Michigan.
Too bad he couldn't drive the truck this weekend.
"Right now, I'd just like to have the Jasper Engines car be as balanced," Gaughan said. "That's what made it so nice last year. It was balanced. It had nothing to do with being a Raybestos rookie or not being a rookie. It was balanced, and when racecars are good, the balance comes easy.
"This is a good racecar here. We're pretty happy. The car feels fairly good. We've got a little quirkiness in it that I'm unhappy with, but as a driver, we're always unhappy."
He's not kidding. Remember Lone Star, the truck with which he won four truck races in a row at Texas?
"That Orleans Dodge that I won Texas with four times, I was never happy with," Gaughan said with a smile.
"I'm never going to be happy until we've got a lead like Jimmie (Johnson) or Ryan, and then I'll say, 'Maybe it's OK,'" Gaughan said.
Don't let Gaughan fool you. He's happy with this car. And it's not even the same chassis he used to finish sixth at California, the best result of his rookie season.
"We only ran this Dodge once before this year, and it was when we were struggling with a lot of other issues," Gaughan said. "The guys at the shop did a great job of putting it together. They took that extra fine tune massage and put into it, and when it rolls off at the racetrack, it's so much easier to be decent and make it better than to be out to lunch and try to just get it in the ballgame.
"This one was decent at the start. We were able to get it in the ballgame pretty easy. I'm pretty fired up."
When is he not? Probably only when he sleeps.
But enthusiasm alone doesn't make for a great driver or a great team. If it did, Robin Williams would have 10 championships.
No, you need the whole package, and Gaughan is convinced his team has what it takes to compete in this sport.
"This is a great race team," Gaughan said. "We've got a lot of good people, a lot of good help with Rusty and Ryan's teams. Matt Lukas and Shane Wilson, my engineer and crew chief, (Penske engineer) Roy McCauley, the other engineers have done a great job of putting this thing together.
"Michigan was good to me last year in the trucks, and we'll see if we can't make it good to us in the cars."
The No. 77 bunch has qualified well this season, as Gaughan has started in the top 10 five times. But there's only the one top-10 finish.
"At Dover, we had a pretty decent racecar and just got in a racing deal that you couldn't miss," Gaughan said of a 27th-place finish there. "But here at Michigan, there's a lot of room to miss things. And if you stay up front for most of the day, you can miss a lot more just by being up front.
"We're starting off good. We'll see if we can't finish it."