Gaughan returns to Daytona 500!

Gaughan returns to Daytona 500!

February 21, 2017 3:05 AM


The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series’ biggest race of the year kicks off the 2017 season on Sunday with the 59th running of the Daytona 500. Of the 40 drivers starting, three of them hail from Las Vegas. Who said NASCAR was only a southern thing?

We all know about former Cup champions Kyle and Kurt Busch being from Las Vegas, but the surprise Vegas entry this year is Brendan Gaughan, who locked himself into a spot during Sunday’s Daytona 500 qualifying driving the No. 75 Chevrolet for car owner Mark Beard. It’s the same car Michael McDowell drove to a 15th-place finish in last year’s Daytona 500.

Gaughan, a regular and two-time winner in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, will have a fast ECR engine and will be using his usual Richard Childress pit crew. Beard Oil is listed as the primary sponsor, but the team is still looking for more sponsorship, which immediately lends the thought that we might see the South Point logo on the hood like he has on his Xfinity Series RCR Chevy. It is an easy thought to have since his father, Michael Gaughan, owns the South Point.

Brendan, the grandson of Las Vegas gaming pioneer Jackie Gaughan, will be making his second 500 start. The first time was in 2004 when he drove the entire season in the No. 77 Ford for a subsidiary of Team Penske. He finished 19th in that race, but later that season on the other restrictor-plate races at Talladega he finished 13th and fourth. Last season in the Xfinity Series he was fifth at Daytona. He’s quite comfortable at going almost 200 mph with side-by-side racing for the entire race and he understands the draft well.

“The only reason I said yes to driving the car was because of the plate racing phenomenon where anything can happen and also because of the huge motor – that motor was a big factor,” Gaughan said Monday morning while taking his family to Disney World. “I’m looking to show everyone (the other drivers) on Thursday during the Twins how big of a motor the No. 75 has.”

Gaughan is definitely going to need some help from the other drivers trusting to follow him during Sunday’s race so he’s going to try and make a few friends in Thursday’s Can-Am Duels where he starts 17th in the first race.

“We’ll push some people (in the draft), and some of them will push me and others will hang me out to dry – it’s going to happen, but they need to know how big of a motor we have and that the 75 can help them out on Sunday,” Gaughan said.

William Hill sportsbooks have Gaughan listed at 250-to-1 odds to win, which is definitely worth a small wager, and I say that only because of the type of racing restriction-plates produce. If this were a race at Las Vegas, I’d say spend the $5 on a beer instead. But the volatile nature of both Daytona and Talladega allows for long shots to surprise the field. Anything really can happen when all the cars are relatively equal.

A rookie named Trevor Bayne won his only career race in the 2011 Daytona 500 and paid out at 100-1. A part-time driver named Brad Keselowski driving an underfunded team won at Talladega in 2009, and in 2013 Front Row Motorsports – with a small budget – won its first race ever behind David Ragan at Talladega and teammate David Gilliland finished second.

When asked about his chances Sunday, Gaughan didn’t hesitate.

“We’re in it to win it,” he said. “We’re not racing for points or just a good finish. It’s the only race for us and we’ve got nothing to lose so winning is really the only objective.”

Crazier things have happened in NASCAR, and I’ll definitely be rooting for him on Sunday, as will his special guests. Gaughan said his father and Brent Musburger will both be watching the race atop his pitbox.

Daytona notes

The Westgate SuperBook has posted Dale Earnhardt Jr. as the 5-1 favorite to win the Great American Race. He’s a two-time winner and will start from the second position, but the biggest question is how he’ll respond after missing the final 18 races last season due to a concussion. He also didn’t race in Sunday’s Clash at Daytona, which was won on the last lap by Joey Logano.

Only 17 drivers participated in the Clash, but a lot of what was seen can be applied to handicapping the Daytona 500. The Hendrick Chevys don’t have their aero-package set-up as well as they’d like, which is a problem carried over from last season. Jimmie Johnson was unable to stick around turn 4 on two separate occasions causing two cautions, the last of which ended his day.

Earnhardt, who was a guest broadcaster for the Clash, said it was the same issues he and teammate Chase Elliott had last season. It should be a major concern for all looking to bet on Johnson, Earnhardt, Elliott or Kasey Kahne in odds to win or props.

One of the most notable pieces of information gained from Sunday’s Clash was a continuation from the past two seasons that the outside line is not where drivers want to be. It’s almost impossible to pass up high, so we’re going to see drivers fighting for real estate on the bottom.

Another piece of information gained is that all four of Joe Gibbs Racing cars appear to be a little better than everyone else. During the final Clash practice on Friday they finished 1-2-3-4 in speeds and during the final 50 laps of the race they were 1-2-3-4 with Hamlin leading 48 of the 75 laps before he got tangled up with Brad Keselowski fighting for the lead on the last lap.

The main reason eventual winner Logano and Keselowski were able to catch the the four-car Gibbs train was because of taking tires in a later pit sequence when the Gibbs drivers opted not to pit and chose track position instead. It worked for 49 laps on old tires very impressively. I think we’ll see six Penske and Gibbs cars battling for the win on Sunday and I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Gaughan at 250-to-1.