NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Beyond the Cockpit: Brendan Gaughan on 2016 and Beyond

Currently fifth in NASCAR XFINITY Series Points, Brendan Gaughan provides his Richard Childress Racing team with a veteran presence in the driver’s seat.  Gaughan, 40, has had a strong season, in position to make the first XFINITY Chase yet he’s been at the center of speculation about whether 2016 will be his last season in the No. 62 Chevrolet Camaro.  He sat down with Amy Henderson at Bristol and addressed those rumors, his 2016 season, and how he balances life on and off the track.

Amy Henderson, Frontstretch.com: Let’s talk about 2016 (Gaughan has 1 top 5, 5 top 10s and is currently 5th in points). Where do you think you stand?

Brendan Gaughan: We’ve been good. We haven’t been great. We have a good average finish. We haven’t had a bad race where we were in the 30’s and had a wreck or anything, so our average finish is up there with the top five in the sport. We did not come out as strong this year as we did last year, but last year we started to wane, so this year, hopefully, it will be the reverse, where we’ll work our way into it. In the end, with this season being the new deal, with the Chase format, it almost doesn’t’ matter. As long as you peak in the Chase, that’s what really matters.

Henderson: About the Chase: there have been rumblings among fans because not many XFINTIY Series regulars have won races this season to lock in. Does that matter?

Gaughan: It doesn’t matter to us. Apparently it matters to some fans, but it doesn’t matter to us. It would be nice to get one, because then you are locked in. But we look at a lot of historical data, and historically, we should be top 12 fairly confidently to make that Chase. So the goal is to hit that Chase in the right stride and to learn enough during the year.

I’ve always said that’s what I felt made Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus so good—once they felt they were locked into the Chase, they would take chances and try things for the end of the year, because they knew they could take chances. So I feel like now, once we know that we’re solidly going to be in, Shane (Wilson) can do some things that he hasn’t been able to do, and the team in general can.

(Photo: Russell LaBounty / NKP)
“For me personally, I am very cognizant of if it’s two Cup guys in front of me.” — Gaughan on the the new heat race format. (Photo: Russell LaBounty / NKP)

We can take some chances that we wouldn’t (otherwise) be able to take to learn what we need to learn for those last eight races.

Henderson: Another new addition to the XFINITY Series this season is heat races at the four Dash for Cash races.  How hard can you really go, knowing you can’t go to the backup car if something happens?

Gaughan: I don’t take them any different.  It’s a 50-lap dash. 50 laps at Bristol? Pretty darn quick. So what, it is is literally an old-school short track heat race. You need to qualify near the front, and if you want to be one of those two Dash for Cash qualifiers from your heat, you need get to the front and stay there. In 50 laps, that means no tire changes, no pit stops. If you have to make a pit stop in your heat race, you’re screwed.  So the goal is to qualify near the front and run up there. For me personally, I am very cognizant of if it’s two Cup guys in front of me, it pays no extra money to win that, so I don’t need to push to pass them if I’m in front of the guys who I need to be in front of.

Henderson: NASCAR has used the Dash for Chase to highlight XFINITY Series regulars. Is there anything else you feel that NASCAR and the television partners should be doing to promote the series?

Gaughan: When Nationwide came up with it, it was a brilliant idea, and when they did it, we all kind of thought, “Huh?” Just like anything that’s new, everybody kind of looks at and goes, “What?” But it was a very easy and brilliant way to highlight the XFINITY regulars. Now XFINITY has taken it over and they have thrown a twist to it.

I think NASCAR was looking for a way to make it gimmicky and to make something about it. I didn’t think the old way was bad, but this is definitely a new idea.  So, let’s try it and see how it goes. If it plays out well and the fans like it, great. If it doesn’t play out well…we’ll can the idea and go back to the old one. NASCAR has been pretty good in their recent history about picking out ideas that weren’t any good and admitting it was bad and stopping it. So, give them some races and see how this one works.

Henderson: You have two young boys at home, your family business in Las Vegas, and racing.  How do you balance all that in your life?

Gaughan: I live in Vegas most of the time. This race team in particular has been very generous to allow me to come from the West Coast. If you look at most of the guys who’ve been with me on my team, my crew chief was with me in 2000, 2001. My rear mechanic was with me since 1999. My tire guy’s been with me since 2000. My guys have been with me, some of them, since the mid 2000’s and the rest have been with me since 2013. This is a team who knows me and knows how I feel about them.They gave me permission to basically go home. I very much appreciate that.

Richard (Childress) looked at me and said, “You’re a grown man. Be where you need to be when you need to be there.” And that’s how I’ve always been. So, when I have things to do, I come in. If I can stay with the kids later, I’ll stay later. The way I look at it, most nine-to-five dads don’t get to take their kids to school and pick them up, or maybe they get to drop them off, but it’s real quick on the way to work. I take my kids to school, I pick them up. I make them breakfast. I get to be there at dinnertime. I’m there most of the time, and then for three days a week, I disappear and they watch me on TV. In the summer, they’ll travel with me.

Henderson: You’re 40 now.  You don’t see a lot of drivers racing over age 50 anymore. Why is that?

Gaughan: I think everybody has other things they want to do. Back in the old days, some of the racers, all they ever did was race. I’ll pick a guy out—Mark Martin. All Mark Martin knew how to do was race. So Mark Martin wanted to keep racing. A lot of guys have other things—Jeff Gordon got a TV gig.  Tony Stewart just wants to own his team and go do other things. I think nowadays, we’re all planning on doing other things than just racing.  A lot of us have kids we want to spend time with. Jeff, he adores his children. He goes everywhere with his kids. Jimmie (Johnson) is the same way—he wants to be with his kids.

Until you can’t be the dominant figure, that’s the way I look at it with guys like Jeff. He still ran for a championship in his last year, but he didn’t know how many more years he wanted to try and found a great way to get out.

Henderson: How does that apply to you?

Gaughan: We talk about it every year. I’ve talked about it every year since 2007. I always said if I couldn’t win, I didn’t want to be

(Photo: Russell LaBounty / NKP)
Don’t look for Gaughan to retire anytime soon. Well, maybe. But probably not. (Photo: Russell LaBounty / NKP)

here, and there were a lot of years that I didn’t win. But I was on teams that weren’t winning. Since I came to Richard Childress Racing, my whole goal was if I can’t be up front in this stuff, then I need to go home. And man, I’m up front every week just about.

I love racing here. I’m still winning races. If I can’t win races and be up front in Richard’s XFINITY cars, then I don’t want to be here.  Every year, my dad and I joke about it, and the big report this year—my dad and his big mouth; he doesn’t understand how to talk to reporters sometimes and realize that they like to take things literally.

My dad and I have always talked about it. Two years ago I wanted to retire and he said no. This year, my dad wanted me to retire and I told him no. Every year, we do that back and forth, we goof around, but in the end, I’m still having a great time. My family life is great at home because I get to stay at home. I’m still running up front, and as long as Richard wants me, I still want to be here.

Henderson:  You tell great stories, and you’ve told us some good ones over the years. Is there one you haven’t told?

Gaughan: I can’t remember all the ones I have told you, that’s the problem! I’ll make fun of my spotter for a little bit. I have two spotters: Stevie Reeves, who’s Aric Almirola’s spotter in the Cup Series, and he spots for me in 23 of the 33 races. But my original spotter, the Batman, and I go back a long way. In one of our last off-road races together and we were about three cars from starting, and he still had (stuff) kind of everywhere in his lap. I was like, “What are you doing?” And I look over and he’s looking around all shady. I’m thinking, “What is wrong?” And right before we got to the start-finish line, he reaches down to the GPS screen in front of us. He reaches down and he has his eyeglasses—these bifocal readers—duct-taped to his face.

He couldn’t see the GPS without them, but he didn’t want anybody else to see him with his readers on. So I looked over at him and said, “You’re the guy that’s reading the GPS?  That’s it. This is your last race.” That was when I said he couldn’t ride in the passenger seat because he had to put his (expletive) reading glasses on.  nd that race, I had to set up the GPS because once again, he couldn’t set it up, and it was really funny.

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