Brendan Gaughan · Friday September 6, 2013
I think we left off last time just before the race at Pocono Raceway, so we’ll start there. Pocono was an amusing race. We went there intentionally trying to experiment with something new the team has been trying. That’s what great race teams do; when you know you have great baselines, you can do that. At RCR, we know we have great baselines and great trucks. We tried to do something, and it didn’t work like we wanted; no big deal. The thing that killed us was when we didn’t get qualifying in. Qualifying was going to be like a practice, so we could get the travel set.
When we didn’t get qualifying in, we said, “Well, okay. When we find out where our travels are, we’ll be ready for the race.” Well, when qualifying didn’t happen, we decided we’d get it on the first caution. The first caution was in Turn 1 on lap one, and we couldn’t really tell anything then. The next caution was at lap 24 of a 50-lap race. It was a deal where we just ended up laughing because we were never able to get the caution we needed. We missed the setup and we were struggling—we were so tight that the splitter was hitting the track. We wore off about three-quarters of the splitter. We just never got a chance early to fix it. When we finally fixed it, we went from 19th to ninth in four laps. It was one of those things where we just needed one chance to adjust on the race truck, and once we got that chance, we were fast. It was one of those deals where we had to look at it like we got a top 10 out of it.
After Pocono was Michigan International Speedway. We were fast in qualifying and started second. We started the race a little too loose, but made one adjustment that we knew might make it better in traffic, and it was. We had a chance to win, and you know what? With four to go, I went for the win. The chaos started when James Buescher forced Kyle Busch to make a move. Kyle made the move that opened up the chance to win for me, but then he got loose and wiggled in front of me, and I had to lift so I didn’t wreck both of us. He came across my nose, and as soon as that happened, I lost my momentum and got stuck in the middle. We ended up with an eighth-place finish and that just bummed me out. There was the win right there. We had the “W” and ended up going back to eighth. That part stunk, but we were fast.
The next race was an anomaly for us. We raced at Bristol Motor Speedway, and we missed the setup. We missed in the truck and in the Nationwide Series car. That’s one of my favorite tracks in the world, and we just flat out missed. That really bums me out, because the Trucks only get one shot a year at that track. But look, the boys are allowed to have a bad day. I’m allowed a bad day; we all have bad days. It just bums me out that we had one at a track where I’m usually so good.
So now, we are in a crunch for points. The days of us saying “there’s a lot of time left” are over. We have to win races now. We have to start chipping away at that points lead, or it’s just going to end up slipping away. We have to do some work. We have to get a bad race by Matt Crafton. We have to make some luck and we have to start winning races. The time for one or the other is gone; we now have to do both.
There are some tracks coming up on the schedule where I think we can make up a lot of points. We’ve got Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway coming up, and we’re good at the big tracks. We like Chicagoland Speedway, too. Matt Crafton’s been doing great on them as well, but those tracks are ones that I like and I feel I’m really good at. RCR has the technology to be great at those style tracks. But we really can’t pick and choose any more. We have to go to every track and we have to fly. We have to go kick some butt.
We feel like winning the championship is absolutely still doable. We’re only 74 points out of the lead. That’s very difficult; with the one-point purse system, that is a lot of points. But we’re only 20 points out of second. We’re so close to second, but we’re really far from being first. We have to start chipping away at that, and the only way to do that is to get that 48-point number, which is winning the race and leading the most laps. If you do that, you can gain five or six points on everybody. If Matt finishes tenth, I can gain more than just ten points on him. We’re going to have to start doing that. There are only eight races left, so if we don’t win races, we won’t be able to chip away at that lead enough.
Besides running for the championship in the Camping World Truck Series, I’ve also run in the Nationwide Series at Watkins Glen International as well as Bristol, and I ran the Sprint Cup race at Michigan. Usually when we do that, I have my No. 62 crew from the trucks with me, but at Watkins Glen, I ran the No. 33 and I didn’t have my usual guys. That was the Ernie Cope-led team, and it was all Ernie. Ernie and I have a good relationship from last year, and I had a lot of fun with him. All of the RCR teams were a little bit off that weekend, so we ended up right behind our teammates, and we finished about where we ran all day long. I don’t get as excited about Watkins Glen anymore. They’ve made that place so easy now by paving over the runoff areas. There’s no longer a penalty for making a mistake, and that was what used to separate everybody back in the day. I’m kind of depressed about Watkins Glen, because they’ve made it where anybody can drive it, and if you mess up, so what? You run over a curb and keep on driving the same speed as if you hadn’t missed it.
I did run in the Nationwide Series at Bristol with my No. 62 guys. That was my whole 62 bunch, but once again, we missed our travels by a lot when we unloaded and we just ended up playing catch-up most of the time. Shane Wilson, my crew chief, got our Chevy really fast by the end. The only problem was, it was the end, and by then we had lost a lap and it never worked out for us to get the lucky dog or the wave-around. That bummed us out, but it was good experience for my guys and I did like that. They had great pit stops, and that’s good practice for them to take back to the Truck Series. We had some fun, but it wasn’t quite everything we wanted.
I had the chance to run the Sprint Cup race at Michigan with Phoenix Racing. That was a total one-off thing. Mr. Finch is near the end of his tenure as a team owner in NASCAR. He’s one of those famous team owners who has been around forever—he had Neil Bonnett, among others, in his cars and he was pretty famous back in the day. He gave an offer that South Point couldn’t refuse, and it was an honor to go race for James Finch. Unfortunately, during the race, we were loose getting into the corners all day. At Michigan, where you’re doing 210 miles an hour entering Turn 3, loose in just sucks.
Steve Barkdoll is the general manager for Phoenix Racing and the spotter. He’s a really nice guy, and I’m really glad I got to work with him and Nick Harrison, their crew chief. I made some great buddies out of it. Barkdoll told me after the race that about the only thing we did well was bring his race car back in one piece. It wasn’t that easy, but we didn’t wreck it and they will be able to run that car in the future. It was a long day for us.
At this point in the season, I’m really focused on racing, so I haven’t gotten to do anything off the track that’s exciting. We’ve been taking the kids in the motor home, and I enjoy that. We took them to Bristol and had a nice stay up there. Bristol has a really nice coach lot. The babies liked it, and that was fun, having them at Bristol with me. But really, it’s all about the racing right now. It’s time to focus and get ourselves back in the points chase. It’s time to put all the toys and the SCUBA diving stuff away and go win some races.
Crazy Off-Road Story of the Month
There’s a guy that I like named Curt Leduc. He’s actually going to be retiring soon. But Curt Leduc has the reputation of hitting people really hard in the desert. Everybody knew that if Curt hit you, you knew he hit you.
My co-driver, Batman, who still spots for me from time to time, was there. We’ve been working together forever. I was maybe seventeen years old at the time, maybe eighteen. Curt was actually sponsored by the Barbary Coast Hotel, one of my dad’s old casinos. He was on a different team, but he had our radio channel, and he and everybody on his team knew that when they got to me, don’t hit little Brendy. I was in a slower class than he was. Well, we had a famous radio situation on Walker-Evans Racing’s channels. Our radios broke a lot. And I should say they broke because we turned them off.
We had turned off the radio to avoid the situation that we were always trying to avoid. I better not say anything more about the situation—let’s just say we wanted to avoid it. So Curt caught me and he was riding with a guy who later became my chief mechanic—his name was Bubs. I love Bubs, he’s a really great guy. But on that day, he was riding with Curt. Well, Curt caught up with me, and they changed to our radio channel to call me to tell me to move over for them. No answer. Well, they got no answer because our radio wasn’t on.
I couldn’t see Curt behind me in the dust. I was slowing him down; he was running for the win and he was trying to go really fast. He kept calling and calling, but the radio was off, and finally Curt decided he was going to have to bump us. That’s how you pass in the desert: you hit somebody from behind to let them know you’re there. Well, Bubs said to Curt, “Okay, bump him then, but be real gentle, Curt. Everybody knows you have a reputation. Be gentle. Be careful; just nudge him and let him know you’re there.”
He got right up behind me and just then we go into a hole and I hit the brakes hard. Curt hit me going about 15 miles an hour faster. Ka-pow! He hit the poop out of us—it broke the rear cage in half, dropped the fuel cell, and about knocked my teeth out he hit us so hard. Batman was swearing, and we pulled over and Curt went by. We were pissed off, going, “What a jerk! I can’t believe he did that!” He had that reputation, though.
I think Curt probably won, that was usual for him. We finished second or third. Our backs were still sore, he hit us so hard. Curt didn’t even care about Victory Lane, he came looking for us at the finish line to apologize for hitting us so hard, even though I was slowing him down by 20 miles an hour for about five miles. It was just one of those things where he didn’t want to hurt little Brendy, and of course I hit the brakes and he just absolutely destroyed us. That was one of those passes that I’ll never forget because it hurt really bad. But the funny part was, he didn’t mean it. You don’t really remember when people pass you because it happens so fast, but this one I remember because he hit me so hard. But that was Curt, and I still love him.
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