*Meeting Brendan*


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Crawford Saves Day For Gaughan

It's hard enough for drivers trying to find new teams in the brief NASCAR offseason, given the lopsided ratio of candidates to seats. Trying to pull off a package deal is almost unthinkable.

For someone who wasn't going to have it any other way, Brendan Gaughan appeared to be setting himself up for failure. He was even prepared for it, having lined up a backup job as, of all things, a ski instructor in Colorado. Pulling off a plan to find a Craftsman Truck Series home for himself and seven crew members was that much of a long shot.

That's why Gaughan could barely mention the name Rick Crawford last week without adding "hero" in the same breath.

Crawford and his Circle Bar Racing team saved Gaughan and seven of his former South Point Racing employees, including crew chief Bryan Berry, putting the team in the No. 10 Ford just in time for last week's Daytona preseason testing.

"Rick Crawford is my hero, and to about half the guys in my shop, he's their hero," Gaughan said. "We were looking for jobs in a very difficult time."

None of them were looking last November after the Homestead season finale, when a merger with Wyler Racing meant South Point would be continuing as a team in the Wyler Toyota stable. But that partnership crumbled and South Point was the odd team out, having closed its Las Vegas-based shop.

Fortunately, one available ride was still out there in December, the No. 10 that David Starr left to go to Red Horse Racing. Gaughan, a longtime friend of Crawford's, picked up the phone.

"I called him after Thanksgiving and said, 'I'd sure like to get on that list,'" Gaughan said.

And it was a list -- some 65 drivers had called or submitted résumés, Crawford said. But Gaughan's history as an eight-time race winner spoke for itself, and his family had a relationship with Circle Bar owner Tom Mitchell.

Brendan and his father, Las Vegas casino owner Michael Gaughan, had tried to get the famously reclusive Mitchell to a race for years, even offering the company plane for transportation. Mitchell declined. To this day, Brendan Gaughan still hasn't met the man who is now his owner.

"I only spoke to Mr. Mitchell once, years ago. In all my years of knowing Rick and racing against him, traveling with him, he always said what a great man Mr. Mitchell is," Gaughan said. "Rick said when he heard I was available [to drive], Mr. Mitchell said it was me or nothing. He was that excited about having me there. That made me feel really good."

But the deal hinged on Gaughan bringing his crew with him.

"The fact that my guys were on the street really bothered me," Gaughan said. "I could not handle that thought. I don't like the way [the Wyler merger] happened -- it was wrong to them. Rick jumped and said, 'I just got rid of most of the second team, what do you need?' He brought the guys in, interviewed them all and hired them."

Most got on the road between Christmas and New Year's, leaving Las Vegas for the Circle Bar shop in North Carolina. They got to work quickly and made an impression at Daytona, with Gaughan topping the afternoon speed charts on the first day in his Ford. (Gaughan drove a Chevy last year at South Point and had never driven a Ford in his entire racing career, from ovals to off-road racing.)

"I've probably never seen a happier bunch of guys and hard workers," said Crawford, who will continue in the No. 14 Ford. "I want to see Brendan back happy again and racing. That would be a success this year."

For Gaughan and his team, it's been a success already.

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.

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