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Rookie Gaughan overcomes the Fontana elements

By Keith Lair
Staff Writer

Sunday, May 02, 2004 - Blisters and all, the Automobile Club of Southern California 500 was the best race of Brendan Gaughan's young NASCAR Nextel Cup career.

The rookie from Las Vegas suffered blisters on his backside and on his feet from the heat. But he still drove his Penske-Jasper Dodge to a career-best, sixth-place finish at California Speedway. His previous best was 13th, last week at Talladega, Ala.

"Anybody that wants to say that race-car drivers aren't athletes needs to come see me,' said the Raybestos Rookie of the Race winner. "I've been burned like that, and suffered frostbite in the same race, the Baja 1000. This was like a barbecue. I guess I'll have to listen to my crew and use an ice box next time.'

Gaughan raced to as high as second-place midway through the race. He had a chance to catch Bobby Labonte on the final turn, but over- drove into the corner. Labonte had run out of gas and was coasting to the finish.

"I thought I needed 15 feet, but I only needed two,' he said. "It was my mistake. I wish we could have had a top-five (finish). I'm greedy.'

Rusty Wallace was essentially taken out of the running for the race when Kurt Busch got in the marbles and spun in front of Wallace.

Wallace replaced numerous parts on the front of the car and got back out on the track.

But he was not angry with Busch. He was angry at Tony Stewart, who bumped him.

"That Stewart guy, I don't know what's with him,' Wallace said. "He was coming down the backstretch with his finger out the window. He is the guy who ran into me. I'm not in the mood for him. He's messing with the wrong guy.'

The 2002 series champion did not exactly see it that way.

"We came off of (Turn) 2 and we go together and that put him in the wall,' Stewart said. "The corner before that, he drove right down into the left side of us like we weren't even there. So I don't know why he's pointing the finger at somebody else.

"He wants to talk about what I did to him at Bristol. I remember a day when drivers were a little more cordial than they are today ... But Rusty's not that way. He's out for Rusty. He's not going to move over for anybody. It's all about Rusty right now.'

Stewart finished 16th, one lap down. Wallace was 35th, only seven laps down.

Dale Earnhardt might have had the longest day on the track. But he emerged with his points lead intact by finishing 19th.

"I'm wiped out,' he said. "I feel like I was in a fight all day, it was so hot out there. I fought the car all day. It never did the same thing twice.'

He now leads Jimmy Johnson by 25 points and Jeff Gordon by 27.

Hollywood stuntman Stanton Barrett was the first driver to seriously test the track's SAFER wall. He crashed head-first into the Turn-2 wall and was transported to Loma Linda University Medical Center. He was examined and released. The extent of his injuries were not reported.

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