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Brendan Gaughan: Life at Daytona has been good so far

Well, we wound up 19th after qualifying Sunday for the Daytona 500 and that's not bad at all for our first trip to Daytona with this new Penske-Jasper Racing Dodge.

We came to Daytona with a new Kodak Dodge and we're real excited about starting the season and running for Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors. We ran a 48.110-second lap, which was 187.071 mph, so we'll be starting 10th in Thursday's 125-mile qualifying race. All in all, it wasn't that bad of a lap considering we ended up with a 15 mph wind gust during our qualifying run.

With all the wind we had out there, it tends to throw you around pretty good. We had some pretty good gusts, but nothing that really hurt us time-wise. We would have loved a dead-calm day because this Dodge would have been fast. But we picked up speed from Saturday's final practice session while almost everybody else was slowing down.

This Dodge stayed pretty good through the air but when a gust of wind hits you, you sure can feel it. The motor was fine, everything was great. We came down here and we thought we were going to be a little better for qualifying and instead we got the car where it's going to race better, so I'm looking forward to the 125 and the 500.

As far as Thursday's 125-miler goes, our Kodak team is all brand-new so we don't have the greatest backup car in the world yet, so we've got to make sure we keep the car I qualified with as our primary because we know the backup isn't as good. You've got to keep that in mind as you're racing Thursday but at the same time, you've got to make it into the Daytona 500.

Kodak has been to Victory Lane at Daytona before but Penske and Jasper hasn't, so we've got to balance racing aggressively with being patient and taking care of the car -- how we're going to do it, I don't know just yet. I was hoping to have either Ryan Newman or Rusty Wallace, my Penske teammates, to work with in the 125-miler but they're both in the second race so I guess I'll have to get some of the other Dodges to work with me.

Of course, I'm having a blast down here in Daytona. I've raced here a couple times before with our Orleans Racing Dodge truck in the Craftsman Truck Series, but this is my first time here in the Cup car. The trucks are a lot looser than the cars when you race side-by-side. If you're coming through the tri-oval in a truck and you're racing side-by-side, you're turning right because the truck gets so loose.

These cars get through the air a lot better than the trucks; they feel a lot better in the air. The big difference is 40 cars running four-wide; that's crazy. When you put these suckers four-wide in the 125 and the 500 -- hold on. Brendan Gaughan, driver of the Kodak Penske-Jasper Racing Dodge and a Las Vegas native, is writing a column exclusively for the Las Vegas Sun during his rookie season in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series.

by Brendan Gaughan for the Las Vegas Sun

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