By Camille Gualtieri
On November 15th Fox Sports reported that Brendan Gaughan’s contract would not be renewed for the 2005 season. Rumors had persisted that Brendan would be replaced in the 77 car by Travis Kvapil. In the same article it was mentioned that there might be a price for Travis’ release from his current contract with Alex Meshkin. The next day Penske Racing South reported that a decision had not been made yet and that any decision would be made AFTER the banquet on December 3rd.
Ward Burton has been vocal about the treatment he received from Haas CNC racing. Ward was released outright and has expressed his dissatisfaction at not being able to finish the year. He mentions the fact that both the 31 and 77 teams are finishing the year with their respective drivers. Ward feels that was the right thing to do. Is it right? Ward has his release and is free to look for and sign with another team.
It appears though that Brendan is not free. If Penske has first signing rights to Brendan for next year, Brendan can not sign with another team until he is released. It seems to me that Penske’s waiting to sign Brendan in January of 2004 was one of the main reasons they have been playing catch up all year. Most teams are currently working on the Daytona cars for 2005 right now. Some are already done. If you don’t know who will be driving your car until sometime in December or January, how can you be prepared? If Penske is not going to renew Brendan’s contract then the right thing to do is tell him now, so that he can actively pursue another ride. My daughter’s reaction to the flip flopping at Penske was that “it’s because they don’t have another driver.” Out of the mouths of babes...... If Travis was free to sign with Penske without a buyout of his contract, would Brendan have already been released? Sure makes sense, doesn’t it? Penske is hedging his bets so to speak. He can hold Brendan up until he has a “better” driver for the car. While it may seem like a class act to let Brendan finish the year before releasing him, it is a classless act to tie his hands from signing a better deal.
Anyone who has followed Brendan’s career knows that he is and has been a loyal driver to Dodge. The fact that Brendan is reportedly being courted by Haas CNC racing who runs a Chevy seems surprising. During the final races of last year’s truck series, Brendan was very vocal about only moving up to cup in a Dodge. Should Dodge allow Brendan to slip away to Chevy, I do think it would be reminiscent to when Ford lost Jeff Gordon to Chevy. Brendan is by far one of the best sponsor spokesmen anyone could ask for. He is always ready to plug his sponsor. I have read posts that Brendan checks pictures for the Kodak paper when signing autographs and has even made comments about the make of the camera someone is using to photograph him with. I have met Brendan on several occasions; he is truly appreciative of his fans. I have seen him stop and pose for pictures and sign autographs at his trailer after the Busch race. No ticket needed, no time frame, he just comes out to the trailer and will sign for whoever is there. More importantly, he doesn’t rush anyone. If you want to talk or tell a short story or ask a question, you get his undivided attention. He is the only driver I have meet to ask who the autograph should be made out to.
In an unsponsored truck with a team run out of Las Vegas , Brendan made a run at the Craftsman Truck Series Championship in 2003. He missed winning that championship because of a crash with a 5th entry by a rival team. Many of his fans feel that the championship was stolen from him that day. Brendan could have remained in the truck series and I have little doubt he would have contended for the title this year. Instead he signed with the 77 car in a deal that saw Penske merge with Jasper to form a new team. Brendan was vocal a few weeks ago about not getting things the team had asked for in order to run competitively. It seems to me that working in an atmosphere such as this with feuding teammates (Rusty and Ryan) would be extremely stressful and not very productive.
The question remains though, if Brendan leaves Penske-Jasper, where should he go? Can he run competitively with the 0 car at Haas CNC racing? And in a Chevy? I personally would love to see Brendan in a Hendrick car, but short of that an affiliate such as the 0 car would do. I know he would be a great spokesman for Netzero not to mention Chevy. But if I was Dodge and the opportunity of keeping Brendan at Penske is not viable, then I would get him into a third car at Evernham before Chevy could snatch him away. I know one thing, whichever team Brendan signs with, he will give them 110% and his fans will follow him.