Brendan Gaughan raced his way to a fourth-place finish in the EA Sports 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, piloting the No. 77 Kodak EasyShare Dodge through a yo-yo style event, even surviving a pass-through penalty, to maintain his solid finish and secure top rookie honors.
After starting the final superspeedway event of the 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season from the 26th position, the No. 77 Kodak Racing team was determined to show the improvement in the newly developed superspeedway program. Despite what the team considered to be a poor qualifying effort, its willpower to succeed took over.
During a pre-race team meeting, crew chief Shane Wilson told the team to “execute all day” and when the green flag fell, its performance began. From the start of the race, Gaughan began his rally to the front of the 43-car field. After dropping back in the field and moving forward again no less than five times during the event, Gaughan proved relentless.
“I knew I had a good car, I just wanted to make sure to keep it clean and come out of the race with a good finish,” Gaughan said. “When Jasper Motorsports joined forces with Penske Racing South, a superspeedway program was born and this was their baby. Not only was this fourth-place finish like a win for the Kodak Racing team, it shows that the formation of the superspeedway program has been beneficial. Now they can focus on Daytona 2005.”
Gaughan’s focus on the track was matched by Wilson’s in the pits. Prior to the race, Wilson instructed his Penske-Jasper pit crew to perform four-tire stops during caution periods and two-tire stops under green flag conditions. Following the team’s third pit stop, Gaughan was issued a pass-through penalty for speeding on pit road.
Prior to entering the pits, Gaughan moved around the No. 41 Dodge driven by Casey Mears and dove onto pit road. Gaughan was unaware Mears was also headed to pit road at the time to serve his own pass-through penalty. As a result of his evasive move, Gaughan hit the pit entrance hot, or too fast, causing NASCAR to deliver the penalty. Gaughan served his penalty and moved back onto the track, approximately a half a track length in front of the rest of the field, leaving him on the tail-end of the lead lap.
Over the next 20 laps Gaughan was posted 40th and then 39th in no-man’s land with no drafting help. Just as the leaders were merely car lengths away from putting Gaughan down one lap, the caution flag was displayed for a multi-car incident. Gaughan pitted on lap 126 for four tires and a chassis adjustment along with fuel and then again on lap 127 to top off the fuel. He was posted in 34th for the restart and once again made his trek to the front. NASCAR’s scoring showed Gaughan posted in the seventh position when he pitted again on lap 144 under caution.
Wilson instructed Gaughan to head to pit road when the “one-to-go” signal was given to the field. Gaughan came in for fuel only and returned to the track in the 25th position for the restart on lap 148.
After figuring the fuel mileage following the pit stop, Wilson told Gaughan the No. 77 Kodak Dodge would not make the checkered flag; it was two laps short on fuel.
Gaughan was posted in 23rd on lap 177, but when several drivers headed to pit road for their final fuel stops on lap 178, Gaughan moved into seventh. Once again, the Kodak Racing team received a break as the caution flag was displayed. Wilson began figuring fuel mileage with caution laps vs. green flag laps and consulted the team along with team co-owner Doug Bawel.
Together, they decided to gamble and Gaughan was left on the track. Wilson told the crew, “We take this gamble as a team. If we don’t make it, we did it as a team.”
Gaughan led the pack to the restart on lap 184 and rolled the dice. With no help, Gaughan dropped back into the eighth position but rallied back to fourth for the checkered flag.
The Kodak Racing team returns to action at Kansas Speedway next week with a special paint scheme honoring “The Wizard of Oz”, re-release. The hood of the No. 77 will carry the Scarecrow while film strips will adorn the car's sides.