It has been said that on the frozen ponds of the NHL, the hockey stick is the great equalizer.
On the high-banked ovals of NASCAR, it’s the restrictor plate.
Restrictor plates on engine intakes limit horsepower and acceleration at the two NASCAR superspeedways, Daytona and Talladega, which bunches the cars like grapes on a fast-moving vine. It’s much easier to pass when the cars run in a tight pack in an aerodynamic draft. And there usually are big crashes that eliminate front runners and spill grape juice all over the tri-oval.
Four times each season, the cars that usually run at the back of the pack have a chance to run with the ones up front.
That partly explains why Brendan Gaughan was able to drive the No. 75 Beard Oil Chevrolet — show your hand if you’ve got the die-cast — to a seventh-place finish in Saturday night’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. It was just the third time out of the box for the car and the Beard Oil team, one of NASCAR’s smallest.
The other reason is that Gaughan is pretty darn good at restrictor plate racing.
“I know it levels the playing field for the Beard Oil Team, which has one car, an old Richard Childress car. Which is great,” Gaughan said during a telephone chat on Monday. “But I just enjoy (restrictor plate racing). There’s a cerebral part of it, thinking about what you are going to do before you get there” on the track.
His experience on the big tracks — knowing what to do when he gets there — combined with a stout Earnhardt-Childress racing engine enabled Gaughan to drive from 32nd at the start to as high as second, despite most drivers with the big teams hanging him out to dry in the draft. That forced Gaughan to hurry his way back into line or lose the aerodynamic effect, and that resulted in a quick wall-slapper and then a harder collision with fellow Las Vegan Kurt Busch.
Both were knocked from contention for a good, long spell.
“Nobody wants to work with a little-known team, because we don’t have big motors and they don’t know who the driver is,” Gaughan said. “Fortunately, Ryan Newman knew who the driver was, and what the motor was, at the end of the race. It worked out for both of us.”
Gaughan and Newman were running somewhere in the vicinity of Vero Beach with just seven laps remaining when a multi-car crash involving Kyle Larson took out some fast cars and brought out the red flag.
When racing resumed, Newman and Gaughan did a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers impression. After becoming dance partners they quickly charged to the front, and were running fifth and seventh when Ricky Stenhouse Jr. took the checkered flag.
The do-si-do with Newman capped another excellent Daytona adventure for Gaughan, who finished ninth in the rain-delayed Xfinity Series race on Saturday. He also ran both Daytona races in February, getting shuffled back to 11th in the 500 while driving Mark Beard’s car after running a solid fifth in the Xfinity Series, where he now focuses most of his effort.
Earlier in the week, he also toted an assault weapon for the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command during maneuvers at Hurlburt Field, Florida. In return, Gaughan, an honorary member of the Operations Wing, displayed the Special Ops colors on his Xfinity car, and the names of 19 Special Tactics Airmen who were killed in combat.
Maybe next year?
Brendan Gaughan is about to turn 42, nearing the end of a NASCAR career that has seen him win eight times in the Truck Series and twice in Xfinity and run up front on the superspeedways when he can find a dance partner.
His father, Michael Gaughan, owner of the South Point whose decals indiscriminately adorn Brendan’s Xfinity Series car, says it might be time for his son to learn the hotel-casino business, and the legal moonshine business, and the myriad other businesses in which the Gaughan family is involved.
Brendan says he and papa haven’t sat down to discuss next season. When they do, it’ll probably be no greater than 50-50 that he’s back next year. In other words, about the same as always.
But when all things are (somewhat) equal, he showed again at Daytona that he’s still capable of pressing pedal to metal.
Put a hockey stick in his driving gloves, and the Golden Knights might be able to use Brendan Gaughan on their checking line.
— XFINITY Racing (@XFINITYRacing) July 2, 2017
Contact Ron Kantowski at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.