When Brendan Gaughan showed up for NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing last month at Daytona International Speedway, he was sporting a retro mustache that seemed fitting for either a 1970s album cover or a Mario Brothers cartridge.
The soup strainer, Gaughan explained, was a tribute to a long-ago photo of his father, a picture he recreated 25 years later with "rather frightening" results.
"My father had a famous picture of him the day the Barbary Coast (Hotel & Casino) opened in 1979, and we used it for a PR campaign last year," Gaughan said. "Everybody would look over the mustache and say, 'Man, you look like your dad.' And I went, 'I can grow that mustache,' and they went, 'No, you can't.' ... So I grew the mustache."
By the time the Sprint Media Tour rolled around the last week of January, the mustache was only a memory for the clean-shaven Gaughan, but his bubbling excitement for the season ahead remained. The Las Vegas native, a veteran in all three NASCAR national series, is making the move up to the Nationwide Series for 2014, bringing the core of his truck team from last year with him.
For Gaughan, the shift from Silverados to Camaros in the Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet stable isn't expected to be a drastic change.
"It's the same team. It's a race car," Gaughan said. "It's not like I haven't been in the Nationwide Series before. To me, it's a windshield that's a little bit more slanted back, same seat, same steering wheel, same gas pedal, and a lot of the same drivers. All it means to me is that I've got to go out there and do the same thing that I was doing in the truck. Have that mentality, go try to win races, keep the championship killer mentality in me, and we'll get it done."
Helping smooth the transition is the carry-over of veteran crew chief Shane Wilson, who has a deep history of working with the 38-year-old driver. Wilson, who was atop the pit box for all eight of Gaughan's career victories in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, rejoined the driver-crew chief combination last season. The pairing paid dividends -- Gaughan's 10 top-five finishes were the most of any driver in the series.
Communication came easy between Wilson and the jocular Gaughan, who typically manages to keep the mood light, even in such a results-oriented business.
"In these days where there's a lot more pressure, we approach it in a lot more relaxed manner," Wilson said. "It helps us probably get a little better results. The grind of the year is a lot easier because there's just no BS. We go to the deal, we have some fun; if we have a bad race, we regroup and we don't carry that to the next one. I like that, so it's kind of a relief for me."
It's a feeling shared by teammate Ty Dillon, who is also making the move from trucks to Nationwide under the RCR umbrella.
"Having a guy with that much experience in all three series is huge," Dillon said. "He's such a positive person to be around. He brings up everybody's team morale just being around him. Just a great guy, always there to give you a helping hand with whatever you need, and he's been a great teammate the last couple of years. Looking forward to what we can do together in the Nationwide Series."
Gaughan ran as high as third in the Truck Series standings last season before issues at Kentucky and Iowa sent him on an early summer swoon that dropped him six places in the points race. Gaughan eventually finished seventh, but the subpar results may have belied the team's ability to perform.
"There were three races that cost us 70 points with mechanical failures. You take those three races out and we're 14 points out of the championship," Gaughan said. "You can't look back and cry over spilled milk. You have to play the cards you were dealt, but those three races are what really cost us the biggest chunk of points. After that, you never know what's going to happen."
Childress' Nationwide program takes on a new look this season with Gaughan and Dillon as the newcomers, joining Brian Scott, who wound up seventh in the Nationwide drivers' standings last season. RCR scored two victories last season -- one each for Sprint Cup standouts Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick -- and corralled the Nationwide drivers' crown with a winless, super-consistent year from Austin Dillon, who has joined NASCAR's premier series for 2014.
With another year together with Wilson, Gaughan says a revival for RCR's Nationwide regulars isn't far away.
"There's no reason this team can't win," Gaughan said. "But if it can't, I'm going to do my best Austin Dillon impersonation and top-five 'em to death and win a championship."
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