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From hoops to NASCAR

Andy Spradling
Daily Mail sportswriter
Wednesday March 10, 2004

When confronted with a new challenge, Brendan Gaughan is likely to ... well, put the pedal to the medal.

A rookie driver in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, Gaughan, 28, didn't get to where he is by backing off and drafting.

A Las Vegas native whose family business is casinos, it is said that when Gaughan's grandfather passed away, the young man inherited all the slot machines in Las Vegas airport.

Still, humble almost beyond belief, Gaughan went to Georgetown University to place-kick on the Hoya football team, where he earned all-conference honors. It was the team' s first year in Division I-AA under Coach Bob Benson, playing in the Patriot League, after moving up from Division III.

Something possessed Gaughan to walk on Coach John Thompson's basketball team as well. He spent four years on the squad, playing with such players as Philadelphia 76er Allen Iverson, Phoenix Sun Jahidi White, New York Knick Othella Harrington and Chicago Bull Jerome Williams.

"Those guys were great," Gaughan said. "I roomed with a bunch of them."

Less than 6-foot, Gaughan still added stature to the team. He also graduated with a degree in business management.

"I fulfilled a role," Gaughan said, with a laugh. "No matter what spot I was playing, you've got to have the guys working. I took some beatings, but I gave some out, too. Fortunately those teams needed role players. Coach Thompson was specific on what he wanted."

Gaughan visited the University of Charleston campus Tuesday, along with a few members of his Penske-Jasper Racing team and a model car. UC gave out three pairs of tickets and three nights of accommodations to the upcoming Coca-Cola 600.

So how does a former Hoya hoopster become a gearhead?

"Actually racing came first," Gaughan said. "I started racing when I was 15. I'd been around the Desert Baja 1000 with my dad for years. He raced in the desert for 30 years. My brothers still race there."

He was racing in the desert during his college summers when he was asked to drive in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. He was its rookie of the year in 2002, and it's most popular driver in 2003. He also finished fourth in the Series.

When Roger Penske joined Jasper Racing this winter, he recommended Gaughan, who won six truck races last year.

"We took a chance on Brendan," said South Charleston native Mark Harrah, a Jasper founder. "Most drivers have to run the Busch Series for a couple of years. We took Roger's advice and he hasn't been a disappointment.

"He's got two top 20 finishes and that's an accomplishment. We're looking for great things out of this driver."

Gaughan isn't necessarily satisfied with his 19, 20 and 22 finishes in this year's first three races, but he realizes the positives.

"We're not wrecking cars," Gaughan said. "That's good because we can build on the car rather than rebuild it. We're getting better consistency. The team has really been doing great work. Teamwork is what this business is all about.

"It's like a brand new team. We have Kodak as a sponsor. That's big stuff. Kodak is a monster in the world. It's an honor to wear the shirt. Representing Kodak is a big deal."

Gaughan said the biggest difference in last season to this isn't what he's driving, which fits his positive nature perfectly.

"Going from trucks to cars is not that different," Gaughan said. "The biggest difference is people pay attention to what you say. I love spending time with kids. I go to high schools a lot and I always tell them how important it is to finish.

"As a Nextel driver, they listen."

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