On the right track
Gaughan is in comfort zone again at TMS
By ANTHONY ANDRO
STAR-TELEGRAM STAFF WRITER
Brendan Gaughan has always had a swagger at Texas Motor Speedway.
You can tell that when he shows up at the track wearing cowboy boots and a belt buckle that signifies his four consecutive victories at the track, a feat no other driver has matched.
But Gaughan, who struggled in his leap to the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series in 2004 and had a subpar year in the Craftsman Truck Series last year, has started to find his comfort zone at every track he competes in this season in the NCTS.
The swagger has returned and could signal bad news for the rest of the drivers.
"I don't want to go back to where I was in 2003," said Gaughan, who finished fourth in the points in 2003 and led the series with six victories. "I want to be better than I've ever been. We're trying to make this team better than it's ever been."
The 30-year-old Las Vegas resident comes to his favorite track this week for Friday's Sam's Town 400. And while the driver of the No. 77 Dodge hasn't returned to his winning ways in the Truck series, he's making progress.
Gaughan sits 16th in points in the series that's been dominated by the Toyota trucks. His points standing is the second-best among drivers running in Dodge trucks. More importantly, Gaughan is again feeling comfortable. He's shaken off the affects of his Cup year and has rededicated himself to winning a title in the Truck series while racing for a team owned by his father, Michael, and based in his hometown.
"Last year really helped me get focused," Gaughan said. "I got one year to kind of play, take my mind off a few things and get myself to where I really felt good again. Now I know that I want to get the Orleans team better than it's ever been. We can still do this. I can still do this."
Gaughan was one of the biggest stars in the Truck series in 2002 and 2003, highlighted by his sweep of all four of the races at TMS. He finished second in the Nextel Cup rookie of the year standings in 2004 and was 28th in points driving the No. 77 Dodge. While the numbers seemed to merit another year in the series, it didn't happen for Gaughan.
He moved back into the Truck series last year with less than stellar results. He made 23 starts and didn't win a race, finishing 19th in the points. His struggles were highlighted at TMS, where he had finishes of 27th and 32nd place.
"I wasn't supposed to run full time and then we started running full time and everything just kind of snowballed," Gaughan said. "The good news is that I came back and while we didn't have a good season, we got a decent spot in the points and we started to work on things. I was just really glad to be part of that team again."
It hasn't been an easy road back for Gaughan. He hasn't won a race since returning and now that Toyota trucks are dominating the series, goals have to be readjusted. That's hard for Gaughan to do.
"Brendan goes into every race thinking he's going to win it," Michael Gaughan said. "He never went into a Georgetown basketball game thinking his team was going to lose either. That's just his personality."
Gaughan, who played basketball at Georgetown University, and the rest of his team are working hard on returning to Victory Lane. The team has spent extensive time in the wind tunnel trying to find extra speed. Also, the team is running only one truck this year after fielding two trucks last season.
Is this the weekend Gaughan breaks through and wins again? Texas has been kind to him and it also feels kind of like home as his family owns a ranch in Brock.
"Every time I see Brendan, he says this place is kind of like a home-court advantage for him," TMS president Eddie Gossage said. "If you look at our NASCAR Nextel Cup history, winning twice here is apparently impossible yet Brendan won four straight truck races. It's astonishing because this is one bad racetrack and somehow Brendan not only beat it, but beat it four times in a row."
IN THE KNOW
Gaughan crazy in Texas
How Brendan Gaughan has fared in his racing career at Texas Motor Speedway.
Year Start Finish
2001 Spring 30 2
2002 Spring 10 1
2002 Fall 5 1
2003 Spring 5 1
2003 Fall 7 1
2004 16 38*
2005 Spring 30 27
2005 Fall 34 32