The Frontstretch: Brendan Gaughan Driver Diary: Wrapping Up, Moving Up, and Being Jimmie Johnson by Brendan Gaughan -- Friday November 15, 2013

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Before the last five races of the season, we had a three-week break. I took the family to Disneyland and had a good time there. We went to the beach and my brother’s house for a while. Then it was a bummer; I had to come back to North Carolina without the kids. I got to stay for my one-year-old’s birthday, and then I left the next day, and I’ve been back in North Carolina since then.

The first race we had after the break was at Talladega Superspeedway. It was typical Talladega. We were fast. We rode for a lot of the race, which is kind of what you have to do to survive those things. In the end, on the green-white-checkered, I was third—and then in typical Talladega fashion, you can go from third to 20th in a straightaway. I was third on the back straightaway, and then Ty Dillon and I were losing the draft in the back of the pack. It was kind of a bummer. The only good thing is that we can say that we missed the wrecks, so we didn’t have to deal with those headaches. But you know what? I’m a race car driver, and I’d rather have the headache and finish third.

Brendan Gaughan and many of his RCR team members will move together to the Nationwide Series for 2014..

A lot goes through my head when a wreck happens on a superspeedway. When you get to Talladega, you just know it’s going to be huge. This time, we were so far behind, we weren’t even close enough to get in the remnants of the wreck. I usually just hope my buddies are okay and then pick my way through it—you don’t want to add insult to injury and add damage to the truck. We just have to go slow and pick our way through it. It will shake out where it shakes out. We ended up 11th, because we probably passed 15 trucks because of the wreck.

The good thing is, NASCAR once again proved that it’s not just one of the greatest racing series in the world, but also the safest racing series in the world. What we do, we are race car drivers. We accept the risks of the sport. We all get bummed out when the people that race cars die, and we really don’t like it when it’s something that could be prevented. Some of the things that have happened in other forms of racing recently were preventable. There were preventable deaths. Those are the things that upset a driver. But Miguel Paludo’s truck was destroyed. Kyle Busch hit that inside wall so hard. I haven’t seen the data yet, but that had to be one of the hardest hits we’ve seen in years. Everybody walked away. Everybody got out and went to the care center and yeah, their bells were rung and they weren’t feeling good, but they were okay. NASCAR does such a great job of keeping us safe, from the seats to the head and neck devices and helmets—everything we have. That wreck was a testament to how far we’ve come.

From Talladega, we went to Martinsville Speedway. People always ask how we go from the biggest of the big to the smallest of the small. We race cars. It doesn’t matter; we race the race track we’re at. We bring a totally different style of race truck, but from the time I get in, from the first corner of the first lap, it’s Martinsville. You hit the brakes, you turn, you let it slide; it’s just automatic. I get on auto pilot. I’ve done this for so long, I don’t need a lap to get ready and warm up. I just go. The only time it was tough for me was last year when we had a five-week layoff and then we went to Darlington Raceway. That’s not a place you want a five-week layoff before you head there. I looked at Ernie Cope, my crew chief at the time, and said, “Don’t you think I’m going to be dumb enough to think I’m as good as the guy who’s been racing every week.” There was rust. But when we’re racing every week and we get to Martinsville, I put my foot on the gas, put my foot on the brake, turn, and do it again. It just becomes natural.

I always tell Mike Smith I hate Martinsville. I will tell him that until the day I quit racing, but in reality I like Martinsville. I’m going to be running the Nationwide Series next year, and I’m really going to miss running there. It’s one track that I do want to win at more than most. One, I want to prove the naysayers wrong, but two, just because the track has a lot of history. The fans love racing there so much, and it means so much to NASCAR. When you talk about a half-mile track and think of your local short track, you don’t think about skybox suites and things. But then there’s Martinsville—it’s like the Mecca of motorsports. They built suites on the front straightaway and in Turn 1. They built grandstands on the back straightaway, and motorcoach spots to block the trains that go by. The track has definitely kept up with the times. It’s a throwback track that’s kept up with the world.

One thing fans wonder about is practice and what we learn. The speed charts don’t tell the story. Some guys do mock qualifying runs, others don’t do them. For example, at Martinsville Speedway, we didn’t do a qualifying run,, but most of the guys ahead of us on the charts did. Doing that is good for two or three tenths, which would have put us about second or third. We knew from the last race there and from our test that the track would loosen up as it warms up. So early in the day, I could be telling Shane to loosen me up and make the nose turn, but we knew that’s what was going to happen later. So, we’d start keeping it a little tight intentionally knowing it was going to free up. So we were going by our game plan and our strategy. Our lap times on the board said we were dang good. The average speeds were good, so we knew we just had to sit on it and not get nervous and think, “Oh my God, we’re 17th.” We were going on our experience and believed we knew what was going to happen. And it worked; we ended up finishing second.

The big news for me is that I’ll be racing in the Nationwide Series in 2014. I’ll be driving for RCR with Shane as our crew chief. Most of the guys from the truck team will go with us as well. The great thing about RCR is that there are options for all the guys every year. This team is a great team, but not all the guys want to go to Nationwide. Some guys don’t want to go to Sprint Cup, and some don’t want to move up from the trucks. We’ll pick the best guys from our current team who want to move up to Nationwide, and maybe some of the Cup guys who don’t want 36 weeks anymore. I’ll be driving the No. 62 South Point Chevy. We have a couple of other sponsors who we’ll be announcing soon. It’s going to be a fun year. Shane and I have been having a lot of fun, and we have been fast.

I went home to Las Vegas before Texas for my three-year-old’s birthday. It’s a bummer that we had to practice on Halloween this year, because I missed that. That’s one of the sacrifices you make as a race car driver. It’s worth it, though, because it’s going to make a great life for my children.

We have some plans for the offseason that’s coming up. We’ll spend some time in Vail, Colo. at our family’s house there. My son snow skis with me already, and we’re going to take him out and get him skiing more and more this year. We’ll also find someplace great to go SCUBA diving. We also have the return of the Daytona tests. We’re all excited for that. I’ll be spending some time at the shop, getting the seats fitted for the Nationwide cars as we get those built. It’s going to be exciting.

Crazy Off-Road Story of the Month

When we started in the sport, we were young kids. There was me and also J.C. Dean, my teammate. We weren’t even old enough to drive ourselves to the track. We had to have our parents drive us there. Everybody used to laugh at J.C. and I because we had this hand-me-down racecar with bent shocks and we were just trying to learn to drive it the right way. We were just two goofy kids. We’d pull up to these checkpoints—a checkpoint, for those who don’t know, is where you have to pull up and stop the vehicle so they could check the number. Sometimes we’d have to put something in a can to prove we’d been there and weren’t short-coursing can cutting part of the course.

We’d come pulling up to the checkpoint and the one in the driver’s seat would be covering his eyes and sliding into the pits, or we’d be hiding underneath the dashboard so nobody could see us, or we’d come in and nobody would have a hand on the wheel because we’d be playing air saxophone or air piano on the dashboard. We were just two kids having fun. I’ve had people come up to me 20 years later and ask, “What the heck were you guys doing?”

Jimmie Johnson and I used to sit in each other’s pits back when we were young and sign autographs for each other. Nobody knew who we were. They knew Jimmie a little more in the Mickey Thompson Series, but when we did the CORR stuff or the SODA stuff, he’d sign my name and I’d sign his name. We looked a lot alike back then, before I gained weight and he lost weight and became the runner that he is. It was so much fun as a kid being around the sport. Sometimes we forget that this is supposed to be fun, but I’ve always tried to keep that mentality that I’m still just a 15-year-old kid racing in the desert and trying to have fun.

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