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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Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”