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February 20, 2013

Beyond the Cockpit: Gaughan Full Circle at Last

"Things are working out really well for me right now."

RCR/HHP Photo RCR/HHP Photo

Author: Amy Henderson
Date: Feb. 20, 2013

November 14, 2003. There are fewer than 40 laps to go in the then-Craftsman Truck Series season, and, as often seems to be the case in that series, several drivers are still in contention for the season title, but it’s sophomore driver Brendan Gaughan in control of the points as the laps wind down, leaving Travis Kvapil, Ted Musgrave, and Jack Sprague to try to be in position to capitalize on any mistake Gaughan might make, or to fight it out for second place. Gaughan, the 2002 Rookie of the Year, is already doing something the naysayers said was impossible—competing for the title with a family-owned, West Coast-based team. And there are less than 40 laps left before he proves them wrong.

And then it all changed as Marty Houston got loose at the top of the track, spun into the wall and then slid down the track, collecting Gaughan and narrowly missing Travis Kvapil, who would go on to finish fourth, good enough to take the title from himself. As Gaughan walked from his destroyed race truck to the waiting ambulance, he waved to the crowd even as the men in the booth for SPEED TV agreed that he’d be back next year and that he’d hold multiple titles before it was all said and done.

Things don’t always work out like we expect, though, and Gaughan’s career has taken some curves and speed bumps since that day nearly a decade ago. He raced with limited success in the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series, posting a smattering of top-5 and top-10 finishes, but he never quite had the chance to rekindle the magic of that 2003 year that almost was.

Until now.

Fast forward to 2013 and Gaughan is returning to the Camping World Truck Series with Richard Childress Racing, in a newly-renumbered No. 62 truck, and unlike 2012, when he ran a limited schedule, this year Gaughan will race for the title that many believed he’d win someday. He’ll be reunited with crew chief Shane Wilson, with whom he won back-to-back championships in the old Winston West (now the rebranded K&N Pro Series West), the 2002 CWTS rookie title, and six races in 2003 before that fateful wreck at Homestead. And he can’t wait to get started.

Gaughan, who says he’s feeling more confidence than ever after scoring four top 5’s in just eight races with RCR last year, says that being with a competitive team has reminded him that he’s still the driver he always was.

“What I’ve missed for those seven years was equipment of this caliber,” Gaughan said at RCRC’s media day in Jaunary. “When the ugly duckling got told he was a duck long enough, he started to believe it. Ernie Cope really beat it back into my head that I’m still good at this. I gained a ton of confidence.”

When I sat down with Gaughan for a longer interview later last month, he said that Childress agreed that he still had what it took to win a title—and Childress had one more piece to put in the puzzle: Shane Wilson.

“Things are working out really well for me right now,” says Gaughan, clearly excited about the upcoming season. “Richard gave me a full time ride. The whole reason to go part time (last year) was to see if I deserved it or if I still wanted it. At the end of last year, the things we did, the numbers we hit, Richard was pretty happy and offered me a gig.

“That was really cool, but then he said that Shane was going through a transition and Richard actually came up to me in November and said, ‘Do you and Shane still get along?’ I said, ‘Yeah, we get along enough.’ Shane and I still chuckle about it. For us it’s great. We don’t have to work on chemistry. We’ve fought with each other. We’ve loved each other. We’ve hated each other. We’ve gone through the whole gamut, and we know what we’re both about, and it’s fun to be back with him. It’s really fun to be back with him!”

It should be fun; from 2000 to 2004 in the Winston West, Camping World Truck, and Sprint Cup Series, Gaughan and Wilson posted a combined total of 16 wins and 41 top-5 finishes across the three series.

“I had the best years of my career with him, not just the one year, says Gaughan when asked about the secret of their success together. “We won two championships together, Rookie of the Year in Trucks, had a championship in the Trucks that next year and ended up pretty close. He was a guy looking to make his name in the sport and was a little disenchanted and came out here to this little team in the West, found a great home, and we hit it off great.

“We moved back East and it didn’t work right off the bat for us, but he’s been very successful since he left. I said it during media week, I probably have the most overqualified crew chief in the garage and I’m excited that, with that chemistry we used to have, I’m excited that we’re back together.”

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