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Auto racing rookie acts like veteran

Brendan Gaughan says it's time to ‘get a little more aggressive'

By James Johnson
Staff writer

(July 15, 2004) — Brendan Gaughan is still a rookie, just halfway through his first season in the Nextel Cup Series.

The driver of the Penske-Jasper Racing No. 77 Dodge however, claims that title no longer fits him.

Gaughan says it won't be long before he and the rest of the Kodak-sponsored team shows they are up to speed in NASCAR's top series.

At least that's what he hopes after absorbing lumps and lessons through 18 of 36 points races.

“Now it's time to get a little more aggressive,' Gaughan said Wednesday during a publicity tour stop at Ridgemont Plaza in Greece. “Now you assert yourself.

“Now you can say, ‘I'm not a rookie anymore.''

Gaughan also won't bother to call himself a Nextel Cup contender during the remainder of this season.

At 29th-place in the points standings, Gaughan won't be in the championship chase. He is 592 points behind teammate Ryan Newman for the 10th and final guaranteed spot.

There is one top-10 finish among Gaughan's results. It's a record too difficult to spin.

“The rookie year so far has not been good,' Gaughan said. “I've always laughed at guys who finished 30th and said ‘Well, we had a good car today.'

“Some days, you don't have good race cars. We haven't had a lot of the equipment we need.'

Those car chassis, brake systems and other apparatus needed to put the team on more equal footing have begun to arrive.

Most of that equipment has a Penske label, unlike the stuff that the team used last year using the Ford model and has had to make do with this season.

“We've been using apples with oranges,' he said.

Gaughan sat in a new car last week at Chicagoland Speedway, where he finished 30th.

The Las Vegas native however, was pleased with the car's performance before and after the team changed a blown transmission.

Already an outgoing and upbeat guy, Gaughan said he was even more excited after test sessions at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Monday and Tuesday. “Thank God, yes I can see the light,' he said. “You're going to see a lot different team.

“We're using brand new race cars at the next three races. We had a brand new car at California Speedway and finished sixth.'

The Nextel Cup Series arrives at Watkins Glen for the Aug. 15 race after the upcoming stops in New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Michigan.

By then, Gaughan hopes he is within striking range of the top-15 drivers.

Maybe Gaughan can move closer to the top of the rookie standings.

He is fourth, 60 behind Kasey Kahne, who has a few near wins sprinkled among his five top-five finishes.

“So far, we've done a really good job,' Kahne said. “I think the other rookies have done a good job, too, and they're going to be better the second half of the season.”

Gaughan, most of all, would like to give team owners Roger Penske and Doug Bawel, plus the team sponsors, proof that they made a good choice to drive their cars.

“There's been a lot of races where I let us down,' Gaughan said. “I'm not going to say that I've been perfect.

“But the light at the end of the tunnel is that car last week at Chicago. It was the best car we had all year.'



At a glance
Name: Brendan Gaughan
Age: Turned 29 July 10.
Resides: Las Vegas.
Speed racer: Gaughan is the Nextel Cup Series driver for the Kodak-sponsored Penske-Jasper Racing team.
Car number: 77.
Career wins: None, halfway into rookie season.
Highlights: Fourth in NASCAR 2003 Craftsman Truck Series; 2002 truck series rookie of the year ... Two-time NASCAR Winston West champion.

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