Brian Hilderbrand covers motor sports for the Las Vegas Sun. His motor sports notebook appears Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 259-4089
It has been four weeks since he lost his ride with Penske-Jasper Racing in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, and Brendan Gaughan said he couldn't be happier.
Gaughan, a Las Vegas native, has spent the past month rededicating himself to his family-owned Orleans Racing team, where he will drive a second Dodge truck in at least 16 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races this season as a teammate to Steve Park. Gaughan, 29, also has been working on putting together a deal to race in the Cup Series -- although he said that is not his top priority.
"It's nice to be back here," Gaughan said as he put in another full day at the Orleans Racing shop near the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. "This is still what I've always considered my team and my boys and the guys are all responding really well. The guys are working hard right now and we're adding people to the shop."
Among the additions Gaughan has made include the hiring of veteran Cup Series mechanic Bill Wilburn, who will serve as crew chief for Gaughan's No. 61 truck, and longtime local driver/racecar builder Dick Cobb in the suspension department.
"That's a big deal; you can't imagine how big it is to have a guy like (Wilburn) here," Gaughan said. "It takes pressure off Charlie Wilson (Park's crew chief), and it lets Charlie do more of the stuff that he's good at. It's neat to have him here, and Dick Cobb ... taught me everything I knew about the Late Model (car) and getting around in a circle.
"That (hire) makes me happy because he's now in big-time auto racing, which is what he deserves. He's an asset to this team because he's got so much experience putting things together that -- even though he hasn't put this stuff together -- he's put something together like it at some point and knows how to do it right. He's a good steadying influence in here."
Gaughan, who finished second in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings last season, said his goal is to return Orleans Racing's truck program to where it was in 2003 when he won six races and was leading the points standings going into the final race of the season.
"We're going to get back to having that swagger and that -- for lack of a better word -- arrogance that ... we are the Orleans Racing team, like we had in 2003," Gaughan said. "We're going to make sure that we get that back."
To that end, Gaughan said he and Park would have identically prepared trucks and that the two would share all of the team's resources and information.
"In this shop, all the trucks are painted in one color," he said. "This is one shop and one team. In this shop, there's not a guy that works on (Park's truck) and a guy that works on my truck; everybody works on (both) trucks. Right now, the backup truck for Daytona, for Steve Park, is my primary truck for California.
"We're not going to (have a situation) where anybody can say 'Steve Park didn't get this or Brendan Gaughan gets better stuff' -- we're getting the same stuff. Me and Steve are going to be teammates and this team is not going to be separated like some organizations end up getting where they don't share."
Gaughan said he should know in the next two weeks whether he will be able to put together a deal that would allow him to return to the Nextel Cup Series this season.
"We've got nothing worked out, we're just working on" a deal, Gaughan said. "I've got a lot of people calling me and I'm very much flattered by the phone calls, but I'm going to do this the way I want to do it now. I had my opportunity to do it somebody else's way and it didn't work out for me ... and I'm much, much happier sitting in this office right now being able to make the decisions I want to make now.
"It is not an Orleans Racing team venture," he said of his potential Cup deal. "Someday I would love this to be the first Nextel Cup operation from the West Coast -- that has been a goal of mine for about four years, and with any luck I can make it that -- but we're not looking to do that right now."
If Gaughan isn't able to secure anything in the Cup Series, he said he likely would expand and run the full 25-race schedule in the Truck Series.
And while he still is looking for a sponsor for Park's truck, Gaughan said he is close to announcing a sponsorship deal for his No. 61 truck -- a result of the exposure he gained and the contacts he made during his season in the Nextel Cup Series.
"I had a great opportunity with Kodak and Jasper and with Roger Penske," Gaughan said of the 2004 campaign. "I met a lot of people that I never would have had a chance to meet and I've got an opportunity now with sponsors like Mobil One, which is going to get bigger for us, and Dodge, which has always supported me.
"As much as I was unhappy there at the end, I didn't go out making a jerk out of myself and, fortunately for me, I made great friends. I got to work with good, solid people and made friendships that hopefully will last forever."