Brendan Gaughan is a winner again in NASCAR.
Gaughan capped off an incredible day on Saturday afternoon, surviving a rollercoaster of emotions to capture his first Nationwide Series win in the Gardner Denver 200 Fired Up by Johnsonville. It was his 98th career start, most occurring in the last half-dozen years as the former Sprint Cup driver works his way back up the ladder of the sport. Gaughan had to work hard for it though, as he went off course on three different occasions, which resulted in two stops on pit road to clean his overheating grille.
But in the end, when business picked up, Gaughan rose to the challenge. He held off the hard-charging Alex Tagliani and the unlikely Kevin O’Connell, driving the No. 23 with Chase Elliott and J.J. Yeley rounding out the top-5 performers. Jeremy Clements, Andy Lally, Landon Cassill, Elliott Sadler, and Mike Bliss made up the rest of the top 10.
Tagliani and Sam Hornish, Jr. were by far the class of the field Saturday, as the two combined to lead 44 of the race’s 53 laps. Tagliani was leading when the last caution flew with two laps to go; however, he ran out fuel. He came from 23rd to second over the final two laps but his valiant charge was ultimately stopped short.
Hornish, who also pitted when the caution came out, was only able to rebound for a 12th-place finish. It was his worst result of the four Nationwide races he’s run this year.
The 2 hour, 48 minute race saw just four cautions with seven lead changes among four different drivers. Gaughan took the lead for good with two laps to go.
Regan Smith remains the point leader heading into Kentucky Speedway next Friday. Elliott Sadler, Chase Elliott, Ty Dillon, and Brian Scott round out the top 5 while Trevor Bayne, Brendan Gaughan, Chris Buescher, James Buescher, and Landon Cassill make up the rest of the top 10.
While not a fresh face in the sport, Brendan Gaughan was a Nationwide Series winner with a fresh face. He also had a refreshing attitude and excitement in Victory Lane for a driver that has been around for quite some time. Gaughan’s first win tugged at the heartstrings as he dedicated it to his late grandfather, but it was also welcomed because of the type of driver and man the Las Vegas native is.
Gaughan is having the time of his life at Richard Childress Racing and the Nationwide Series is where his career has been reborn. Saturday capped off the journey and now sets him up to make up ground in the championship standings, where it’s a daunting task; he sits over 100 points behind nearly midway through the year.
The driver he took the lead from also holds championship aspirations, taking his first Nationwide win earlier this year. Rookie Chase Elliott continues to defy all expectations and realistic goals for a first-year driver. After going off course a few times, just one of many on Saturday, he powered by Gaughan with two laps to go on the final restart in turn one. It only lasted for a few more corners, ultimately dropping to fourth but Elliott got everyone’s attention in the process.
The rookie, again, did what many thought he couldn’t by running up front at a place where he has little experience. It’s a growing trend with him in 2014, one that may pay off in the long run. With teammate Regan Smith just a ho-hum 13th, that closed the gap between them in the championship standings – Elliott trails the point leader by just 11.
With the excitement surrounding the first road racing of the year, weather in the forecast didn’t bring the normal groans it normally does. Racing in the rain happens on road courses and NASCAR was fully prepared for the series to do just that on Saturday. So when moments before the pre-race festivities were to begin and sprinkles started through the pace laps, it wasn’t a cause for concern… at first.
Unfortunately, those sprinkles turned into showers, enough to keep the cars from going racing at all. An hour delay preempted the start of the Gardner Denver 200 and really let the air out of everyone’s balloons. For those who were ready to see racing in the rain, having to wait because of it took away the mood and tempered the tone set around a normally chaotic and exciting first corner start.
Fortunately, while it dulled the beginning, the weather conditions ended up playing a role in the strategy and positive tone for the rest of the race. It’s just unfortunate Mother Nature made everyone wait, a running theme in 2014 that is getting old with both fans and drivers alike.
Just as Trevor Bayne was beginning to regain some early season consistency, things have quickly gone back downhill. After being caught up in the mistake of rookie Dylan Kwasniewski last weekend and finishing 30th, Bayne couldn’t stay out of his own – or Ty Dillon’s – way on Saturday.
The No. 6 went off course a few times, continually forced to regain positions lost over the course of a single corner. It was a shame, as Bayne clearly had a solid top-10 car after qualifying 15th. His day, filled with ups and downs came to a crash ending after contact from Dillon sent him around again. The result was the No. 6 car getting mud on his tires and being unable to stop when he came back on track. He went off course again and wadded the machine up.
Falling to 27th in the running order, Bayne is now sixth in points and over a full race behind Smith and JR Motorsports. Catching up, with their success on intermediates won’t be easy going forward.
Underdog Performer of the Race
He wasn’t the highest finisher amongst the underdogs, but J.J. Yeley was one of the most impressive during the course of the 53-lap event. Yeley brought home his No. 28 JGL Racing machine in the fifth position and ran top 15 all day.
While he started 22nd and didn’t make much noise early, it appeared the combination of racing at a road course and having the rain become a factor helped the Arizona native. When the course was at its most unpredictable, Yeley made up the most ground, moving within striking distance of the top 10. As the craziness then began to break out around the final 10 laps, with some leaders having to pit and others going off course, Yeley found himself with a shot at the win.
On the final green-white-checkered restart, Yeley lined up fifth, which is exactly where he finished. Now he heads to Sonoma, California for more left and right-handers on Sunday with the underfunded Xxxtreme Motorsports team.
Double Duty and Start and Park Effect
2 (J.J. Yeley and Landon Cassill) of 38 drivers who ran Saturday will head for Sonoma and compete in the Sprint Cup race on Sunday.
6 of 38 drivers chose to start and park on Saturday.
The unpredictability of road course racing lived up to its reputation on Saturday, as drivers of all pedigrees weren’t left unscathed. In the end, it was someone who you might least expect in Victory Lane taking center stage.
The finishing order will go down as one of the most diverse in recent memory and even by road course standards. Behind Gaughan came names either rarely heard of who took the one off day to shine. Drivers like O’Connell, Clements, and Lally, who had to fundraise just to enter the event were solidly inside the top 10. Normally glanced over, they rose to the occasion at the end and could have even wound up in victory lane.
The championship players still remain the same, though as the season rolls on. Regan Smith wasn’t able to completely put the nightmares of Road America 2013 behind him, but he did survive and remains the point leader. The JR Motorsports organization forges on with Chase Elliott also in contention as it’s back to the big tracks next week.
Some will be more grateful than others in going back to turning just left.