Gaughan Better off After Split


Copyright Las Vegas Review-Journal

JEFF WOLF

I'm sure that two Las Vegas natives who spent the year driving in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series are very happy today.

But their reasons are as different as the fortune they had on the track this season.

Kurt Busch is in Tahiti for another week or so, basking in tropical weather with his girlfriend after a whirlwind celebration of his Cup championship. The festivities culminated Sunday at the Fremont Street Experience, where he shared the Cup with a few thousand of his closest Las Vegas friends.

Meanwhile, after taking in a few nights of the National Finals Rodeo, Brendan Gaughan is glad to be free of the albatross he dragged around racetracks this year when he drove the No. 77 Dodge for a team I used to respect.

Gaughan's association with Penske-Jasper Racing was severed Thursday when the team announced that Travis Kvapil will drive the No. 77 car next year.

My bet is that Gaughan is happy to leave a team that provided race cars that weren't on par with the ones Penske South Racing provided to Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman. (Penske-Jasper is an offshoot of the Penske South team with some differences in ownership.)

Not quite a year ago, the ride seemed an ideal opportunity for Gaughan -- join a team partly owned by Roger Penske, with an American corporate icon such as Kodak as its primary sponsor.

Gaughan continues to say only nice things about Penske, Kodak and team part-owner Doug Bawel, owner of Jasper Engines and Transmissions. But there had to be a rat somewhere in the Penske-Jasper organization who was eager to get rid of Gaughan.

Thursday's news release from Penske's operation to announce Kvapil's hiring made one reference to Gaughan: "Travis succeeds Brendan Gaughan, who drove the Kodak car during the 2004 season."

That's it.

A quote attributed to Penske touting Kvapil states: "Travis showed solid potential and demonstrated the skill and determination it takes to be a winner and we look forward to building on this foundation ... ."

Watch out, Travis, that foundation might be made of quicksand.

Enjoy the compliments now, Travis, because if you're given the same subpar equipment that Gaughan got most of this year, those words will ring hollow in a year.

Gaughan admits to making some rookie driving mistakes, but he still finished second to Kasey Kahne in Rookie of the Year points. Gaughan finished 28th overall in points with four top-10 finishes.

Kvapil's major credentials are winning five NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races in four seasons, including two this year. He won the 2003 championship because another truck wrecked into Gaughan's in the final race.

Gaughan won six truck races in 2003 and eight in his career.

Kvapil drove in three Cup races for Penske South Racing and posted finishes of 21st, 32nd and 39th.

Gaughan was smart when he negotiated his own deal with the Penske-Jasper unit because it gave each side the opportunity to part ways.

It's moot whether it was Gaughan who opted out or the team that wanted to make a change. I'm just glad Gaughan is away from that team.

What will he do now? He says he will decide soon.

There are certainly Cup teams that would be willing to hire him, but if it's not a top-tier team, I would rather see him return to Las Vegas and team with Steve Park on the Gaughan family's Orleans Racing team in the truck series.

The Gaughans recently sold their interest in Coast Resorts -- Suncoast, Gold Coast, Orleans -- to Boyd Gaming, though they still hold rights to the slot machines at McCarran International Airport.

So let's face it, Brendan Gaughan doesn't need a paycheck from a racing team to be able to pay for his next meal.

But no bankroll can feed his competitive hunger. That can be done only with platters of winning opportunities.

That dish was never put on the table at Penske-Jasper.

Jeff Wolf's motorsports column is published Friday. He can be reached at 383-0247 or jwolf@reviewjournal.com.




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