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Retro: Gaughan not taking second chance for granted

March 01, 2012, Mark Aumann, NASCAR.com

Four-race stint with RCR has driver appreciating every part of the process

Brendan Gaughan knows it's never too late to take advantage of a second chance.

When he steps into the No. 33 Chevrolet at Phoenix this weekend -- the beginning of a four-race Cup deal with Richard Childress -- Gaughan's dream of returning to NASCAR's premier series will finally become a reality.

"I don't want Gil to change things. I want to know, 'What did you run with Kevin Harvick when he finished third at Phoenix? Put that on and let's see what it does.' That's the biggest difference now."

--BRENDAN GAUGHAN

And there are two major reasons why Gaughan feels he's better prepared than he was when he burst onto the scene as a 28-year-old rookie in 2004.

"One, maturity," Gaughan said. "And two, knowing that I always had that drive but now there's almost a desperation in it."

Eight years ago, Mark Martin, Jeff Burton and Kurt Busch were still driving for Jack Roush. Rusty Wallace was with Roger Penske. Jimmie Johnson was two years from recording the first of five consecutive championships. And Toyota was still three years away from making its Cup debut.

At the time, Gaughan looked like a can't-miss star. The season before, Gaughan had won six Truck races and had the championship lead heading into the season's final race. But he wound up getting wrecked late in the race by Marty Houston, driving one of five trucks entered by owner Jim Smith, whose lead driver -- Ted Musgrave -- was battling Gaughan for the title.

Despite that disappointment, Gaughan felt he was prepared to make the leap to Cup with crew chief Shane Wilson. Looking back, he realizes that he expected too much, too soon.

"That was an expansion team and didn't have a lot," Gaughan said. "A lot of things were done and made very quickly."

Gaughan qualified well early in the season, particularly at Las Vegas and Bristol, but his finishes didn't match expectations. The team thought they might have turned the corner when Gaughan wound up sixth at Fontana, but things went quickly downhill throughout the summer. He failed to finish in six consecutive races, crashing four times.

And despite a fourth at Talladega and sixth in the season finale at Homestead, Gaughan was replaced by Travis Kvapil for the following season.

So for Gaughan, getting this opportunity with RCR feels like a chance to settle things in his own mind. Sure, he had the one-race deal at Phoenix in 2010 with Kevin Buckler, but he barely had time to adjust the seatbelts before a flat tire put him hard into the wall on the second lap.

"If you could take a Cup schedule and look and said, 'Where would he succeed the most?' California, Vegas and Bristol would be the top three on my list -- and they're in the first four races," Gaughan said. "And Phoenix is a track where I've run great at in the past. You could not pick four better races for a second chance."

Plus, it allows Gaughan to renew his friendship with Wilson, now crew chief for Kevin Harvick. That's something Gaughan hopes he can tap into when trying to communicate with his crew chief for the next four weeks, Gil Martin.

"Gil is much more of a veteran crew chief than Shane was when we had the first chance," Gaughan said. "But to have Shane there -- who knows my language so well and can give Gil maybe some shortcuts as to what I like -- is great.

"I don't want Gil to change things. I want to know, 'What did you run with Kevin Harvick when he finished third at Phoenix? Put that on and let's see what it does.' That's the biggest difference now."

After losing the Cup ride eight years ago, Gaughan never expected to bounce around the sport -- getting perhaps an undeserved reputation as a journeyman driver. A merger of his family-owned truck team fell through. He had two so-so Nationwide seasons with Rusty Wallace Racing. And he ran one season for Germain Racing in 2011 before the team shut down its Truck operation, leaving him yet again to find another place to race.

That's why he's looking at this break at RCR as a way to make up for lost time. And he's going to this weekend -- and the next four races -- with a renewed gratitude.

"I'm going to do my best to appreciate every opportunity that I'm getting," Gaughan said.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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