By BUDDY SHACKLETTE
Last update: 12 February 2004
DAYTONA BEACH -- Brendan Gaughan crawled out of his car and was drenched it
sweat, but his Mississippi Alligator smile told it all.
One of four rookies to compete in the first of Thursday's Gatorade 125-milers,
Gaughan kept his nose clean, drafted with fellow rookie Kasey Kahne and brought
the No. 77 Dodge home a rookie-best eighth in the first 50-lap sprint.
"Eighth. That's solid in the Daytona 500. I'll take it. There were a lot of
close calls. We stuck with Kasey Kahne," Gaughan said. "That's the Gatorade 125
where you've got half the field. That's pretty darn intense. Let's see what
happens when you get all 43 of them out there."
Gaughan started 10th and was assured of making the race on time, but improved
his starting position for the season-opening Nextel Cup Series event by being
aggressive, but picking and choosing his spots.
He admitted to making some rookie mistakes, but behind the coaching of Penske
Racing test driver Buddy Baker, Gaughan stayed above the transfer spot most of
the day and brought his Dodge home with all four corners on it.
"The coaching paid off. We drafted in the right groove at the end and Daytona is
definitely all about drafting in the right groove," Gaughan said. "Daytona's
kind of a like organized chaos out there. You've got to find one guy to draft
with and stay with him and for me that was Kasey."
Gaughan, starting his first-ever Nextel Cup race, fared much better than fellow
Scott Riggs' No. 10 Chevrolet dropped a right-front tire, ending up in the wall
and out of the race, while Kahne missed his pit when he got spun around by Jeff
Gordon on pit road.
Johnny Sauter, driving the No. 30 Chevrolet, brought his ride home in one piece,
but also had a close call on the backstretch when he avoided an incident by
going well below the yellow line.
The only blemish of the day for Gaughan came in the pits when crew members
removed too much tape from the noise of his race car. He pitted again a lap
later to add more and drove his way to a top-10 the rest of the way.
"We made a lot of rookie mistakes, but I think I earned a little bit of respect
working with some veterans a little bit," Gaughan said. "I stuck with the guys
that would get me places."