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Dover a monstrous task for rookies

by Brendan Gaughan

Dover International Raceway is one of my favorite tracks. The track’s design is such that as a rookie driver in NASCAR’s Craftsman Truck Series in 2002, I had to be reminded to breathe; like I could forget that oxygen was an important part of life. Well, if you are driving "The Monster Mile" for the first time, you could forget.

As a rookie, I knew I had to learn each track’s intricacies and I had my work cut out for me. Fortunately, the truck series is as friendly as it is competitive. I asked and received some good advice from veteran drivers. There were times, however, when I wondered if the advice was for the benefit of others.

The best example I can give is based on my first journey to the Dover track. I have always respected Robert Pressley. He drove the heck out of a truck and I knew he could help me get around Dover. So I asked Robert when he lifted off the accelerator while heading into the turns. His answer was a bit unexpected.

Robert told me when to lift, and I looked at him like he was crazy. I thought for sure he was setting me up. He stood by his advice and told me to follow him in the next practice. I was very uncertain now, but I thought, "He wouldn’t put himself in jeopardy just to laugh at me."

So the next practice comes around and I tell Shane Wilson, my crew chief, that I am going for it. I wasn’t sure what I was going for, but I would be following Robert, so I hoped for the best.

While buckling in I wondered if I should have tucked my head between my knees and kissed my butt good-bye first. We take off down pit road, and I am still nervous, but talking myself into it. I get on the tail of Robert’s truck and we head towards the first turn. Sure to his word, Robert was driving in way deeper than I would have attempted had I not been following.

I couldn’t believe it. Not only would the truck drive in that deep, it would head off the turns just as well.

I qualified 13th for that first Dover race in the trucks, but finished seventh. I qualified fourth in my second truck race, but got tangled up in an accident and wound up 18th.

For my first Cup race in June, I qualified fifth – something I was quite proud of, considering my practice session the morning of qualifying wasn’t very promising. Again, I got tangled in an accident. A car was sliding up the track, and, well, I kind of got in the wrong place at the wrong time. After a short visit to the garage for repairs, the Penske-Jasper team had me back in the field for a 27th-place finish.

As Dover unveils its new "Monster Trophy," I am reminded that this race track is surely deserving of its name.

I always look forward to the Dover weekend because I get to do something that is very important to me – I get to visit the troops at Dover Air Force Base. As most of you know, I am very fond of the time I get to spend with the military, and Dover always has something planned for me.

This time I am supposed to tour the mortuary. I know it sounds gruesome, but this mortuary is like no other. It is huge, and I am looking forward to learning more about it. I have been told the sight that existed at the mortuary during the height of the Vietnam War was gut-wrenching because of the number of coffins lined up in formation.

To those of you who will be in Dover, you are in for a great race. With the new Chase For The Nextel Cup combined with typical Dover madness, things could get heated.

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