by Brian Hilderbrand
Brendan Gaughan is disappointed, but not discouraged.
Fifteen races into his rookie season in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, Gaughan has only one top-10 finish and is 29th in points going into Sunday's Dodge/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway in Northern California.
"We're a little bit further behind than I wanted us to be right now," Gaughan, a Las Vegas native, said of his No. 77 Penske-Jasper Racing team. "There are so many good positives about this program, and I knew we had those things ... but, personally, I would have liked to be a little higher up and a little further along."
Still, Gaughan said he has reasons to be optimistic following a fifth-place finish last month at California Speedway and leading 13 laps last weekend at Michigan International Speedway.
"As long as you can see the light at the end of the tunnel, you can feel more secure about what's going on," Gaughan said. "We're starting to come around. Right now, we're in a rebuilding year. The 77, the Jasper Engines folks, we had to go over to Dodge. As positive as it is, it's still tough to take all the bodies, cut them up and throw them away and put all new bodies on.
"Then we've integrated with the Penske program and added all new engineers. (Crew chief) Shane Wilson and I came along and they put all these three companies in a room and said, 'OK, get along, boys and girls.' We had some stuff that didn't work so well in the start but we're starting to gel pretty good. I can definitely see that light at the end of the tunnel."
Gaughan said he is looking forward to Sunday's race at Infineon Raceway -- the first of two road-course races on the Nextel Cup schedule.
"I always have my expectations higher than they probably want me to have, but I like road racing," he said. "If you don't go off the track, you'll probably end up in the top 10. One of the biggest things is to stay smart and don't go flying off the course and you'll be OK.
"Goal number one is to stay on the racecourse. After that, I'd love to get up there and battle with Rusty Wallace and Jeff Gordon and Ryan (Newman) and Robby (Gordon) for the lead -- you know those four guys will be near the front. With my road racing experience, I think as long as I keep my head I can do those things. This weekend, we've got a pretty darn good racecar, so we'll see what we can do with it."