Just three years removed from a disappointing championship loss here at Homestead-Miami Speedway, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series star Brendan Gaughan finds himself at a crossroads.
It has been 36 months since Gaughan came to South Florida in the thick of the Truck Series championship battle, only to have a late crash in the season-ending Ford 200 snatch the title from his grasp. Since then, the Las Vegas native’s career has seen more ups than downs. A promotion to the Nextel Cup Series proved short-lived, after he was released by Penske-Jasper Racing following his rookie season. A return to the Truck Series with his family owned Orleans Racing Team has not produced the results he had hoped for, either. He comes to Homestead ranked 15th in points with just three top-five and four top-10 finishes, and says the decisions he makes in the next few weeks will go a long way in determining the course of his racing future.
“It’s no secret, this has been a tough season,” said Gaughan Friday, just before a gratifying second-place finish in the season-ending Ford 200. “We have struggled to get the trucks the way we want them, and Lady Luck has not been on our side at all. We’ve busted our butts to improve, but the results have not been what we had hoped for.”
A reduction in factory support from Daimler-Chrysler has hindered the efforts of their team’s this season, and Gaughan says he has spoken to other manufacturers about making a change in 2007.
“I’m the most loyal guy in the world, and Dodge has been very good to me and my team over the years. I am grateful for everything they have done, but I also have a responsibility to our sponsors, employees and fans to do whatever I can to make this team competitive. And if that means moving to another manufacturer, that’s what we’ll have to do.”
Gaughan has spoken to Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge about a 2007 partnership, and said all three manufacturers have their advantages and disadvantages. He also believes Dodge’s fortunes may improve next season, as well.
“Our main problem right now is aero,” he said. “The way NASCAR measures the noses on these trucks, we’re at a huge disadvantage. Each make of truck has a different front splitter setup, and other manufacturers – Toyota in particular – have built their noses to take advantage of the templates. Dodge hasn’t updated its nose in quite some time, and as a result, we’re taking a knife to a gunfight most weeks.
“NASCAR’s going to change the way they tech these trucks next year; using a template that runs nose-to-tail, and makes everyone run essentially the same nose profile. That’ll help, but whether it will be enough to make Dodge competitive again, I just don’t know.”
Gaughan said it has saddened him to see Dodge’s fortunes plummet in the last few seasons.
“Not long ago, Orleans Racing and Bobby Hamilton Racing were championship contenders,” he said. “There were also a bunch of other strong Dodge teams running up front from week to week.”
Today, there are just three Dodge teams left; Orleans, BHR and Evernham, and there is a distinct possibility that there could be just one Dodge Ram in the Truck Series field at Daytona in February. Evernham’s Betty Crocker sponsorship ends this weekend, and there is widespread speculation that he will not return to the Truck Series next year. If Gaughan decides to go in a different direction, that would leave only Bobby Hamilton’s #18 truck in the Dodge camp in 2007.
Gaughan said he will do whatever it takes to get his team back to the front of the Truck Series pack.
“I race because I love to race, and it’s definitely a lot more fun when you’re running well. Little problems that get ignored when you’re winning races turn into huge issues when you’re not. When you’re struggling on the racetrack, it affects every aspect of the team. I’m the same driver I was three years ago, and this team still has what it takes to win.
“All we need is the tools.”