Brendan Gaughan rallies to win Nationwide Series race at Road America; third NASCAR event ever run on rain tires

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ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – In a historic and one of the most exciting and action-packed races in NASCAR Nationwide Series annals, Brendan Gaughan rallied to win Saturday’s Gardner Denver 200 at Road America.

While Gaughan has eight wins in the Camping World Truck Series, this was his first career triumph in 98 career NNS starts, holding off a late charge from early and late race leader Alex Tagliani.

It was a historic day because most of the second half of the race was not only run in rain but also on wet weather tires, only the third time in NASCAR history that has occurred — and the first time in four years. The other two times were in 2008 and 2010 in NNS races at Montreal.

Gaughan admitted he “booted it twice” in the 53-lap green-white-checker race, running off the course early in the event, but kept digging, slipping and sliding his way to the finish.

“I love racing in the rain, it’s fun,” said Gaughan, who was in the 2010 Montreal race, and has driven in rain several other times in other series. “And when you’re good at it, it makes it even more fun.

“I haven’t smelled blood in a long time, that’s something I’ve been lacking lately, that killer attitude. When it started to rain, even without the wiper blade (was broken), I started to smell blood and said, ‘I’m coming.’

“It’s fun to watch guys who haven’t done it in the rain. They don’t understand the rain line, and fortunately for me, I did.”

While Gaughan was ecstatic, pole sitter Alex Tagliani was a bit more subdued. The Canadian driver led a good part  of the race (led 19 laps), only to run out of fuel on Lap 49.

“It’s what it is, it’s not in the cards,” Tagliani said. “You have to be quick, you have to have a good car and it has to be in the cards, and if it’s not, you just have to take whatever comes to you.”

With his car just past the pit entrance, Tagliani was able to roll it back the downward sloping front stretch, his pit crew pushed it into his stall, he took on gas and switched back to dry tires and drove up through the field from 24th to finish second, coming up .820 of a second behind Gaughan.

After making contact, Gaughan passed Chase Elliott for the lead on Lap 51 and held on for the remaining two laps.

Kevin O’Connell finished third, followed by Chase Elliott and J.J. Yeley.

Sixth through 10th were Jeremy Clements, Andy Lally, Landon Cassill, Elliott Sadler and Mike Bliss.

Tagliani earned the pole but quickly lost it before the race was even one lap old, yielding to Sam Hornish Jr., who led 25 laps but fell back late in the race to finish 12th.

On Lap 5, Gaughan was in second position but overdrove Turn 6 and ran off the track. He was quickly able to gather the car up and got back to racing, although he dropped four spots in the incident. Two laps later, Gaughan stopped on pit road to have grass that he picked up in the front of his Chevrolet Camaro’s grill removed by his pit crew.

On Lap 9, Dylan Kwasniewski had a virtually identical mishap to Gaughan’s in the same place, heading into Turn 6. To Kwasniewski’s credit, he was able to collect the car up and get back on track and only lost one spot, dropping from fourth to fifth.

Three laps later, Stanton Barrett crashed into the Turn 13 retaining wall, drawing a caution. On the same lap, Carlos Contreras spun Kenny Habul, but both drivers were able to continue on.

Such was not the case for Kwasniewski, however. As he went past Barrett, he shut off the motor to try and save fuel. But when he refired the motor in his Chevrolet Camaro, Kwasniewski could not get the car to go into gear, most likely a transmission issue. A wrecker pushed his car to the garage area to see if his team could replace the trans.

Nearing the end of Lap 17, Gaughan was in the lead and again went off-course, allowing Hornish to regain the lead while Gaughan dropped back to second.

Kwasniewski came back on the track on Lap 18 after the transmission in his car was changed. He was scored five laps behind the leaders.

A full course yellow caution period was called by NASCAR officials on Lap 25 when rain began. After two laps under yellow, NASCAR officials mandated that all teams pit on Lap 27 to switch from dry to wet weather tires.

The race resumed under green on Lap 29.

Also of note in the race, Elliott bounced back from having no practice time yesterday to replace a motor in his Chevrolet Camaro, qualified 12th and finished fourth.

Coming into Saturday’s event, three of the last four race winners at Road America had won the event from the pole.

On Lap 38, the race again was brought under caution conditions when Bobby Reuse appeared to run out of fuel, prompting a full-course yellow.

The race resumed on Lap 41.

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Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

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