|PHOTO: Chris Graythen, Getty Images|
Brendan Gaughan picked up the 3rd last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Go Bowling 235 at the Daytona International Speedway Road Course when his #62 Beard Oil / South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet fell out with transmission issues after 46 of 65 laps.
The finish, which came in Gaughan’s 65th series start, was his first of the season and first since March 25, 2012 at Fontana, 306 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 18th for the #62, the 81st from transmission issues, and the 791st for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 28th for the #62, the 166th from transmission woes, and the 1,733rd for Chevrolet.
The affable veteran of all three of NASCAR’s premier series selected this 2020 campaign as his last. Since 1997, Gaughan has scored two XFINITY wins, eight in the Truck Series, and eight in the former K&N Pro Series West, where he won back-to-back titles in 2000 and 2001. He also shared a special tie with the infield road course at Daytona, where in 2011, he and The Racers Group’s Porsche GT3 Cup won the GT division in the 24 Hours of Daytona. The team finished 12th overall, paired with Steven Bertheau, Wolf Henzler, Andy Lally, and Spencer Pumpelly.
It was thus less surprising that the single-car team owned by Mark Beard (no relation) elected to enter the first NASCAR Cup Series event to be held on the Daytona Road Course. Since 2017, both Gaughan and Beard had run exclusively on the superspeedways of Daytona and Talladega – first with the #75, then with Gaughan’s more familiar #62. Despite their unusual schedule, the organization has become a threat to win, taking 11th in their first run in the 2017 Daytona 500, then 7th in the July return. They ran 8th last year at Talladega, and were going for the lead in the final ten laps when contact sent Gaughan into a spectacular flip into Turn 3. The team rebounded just this year with by matching their team-best 7th in the Daytona 500 before a 21st-place showing in Talladega. With the 400-mile Daytona race pushed to late August and the road course added, the decision was made to expand Gaughan’s retirement season to one more race. While listed with “Beard Motorsports” as the sponsor, the #62 still carried the same South Point and Beard Oil sponsorship from their previous superspeedway efforts.
NASCAR’s new calculus for setting the lineup proved irrelevant as the #62 still drew the 39th and final starting spot. Joining him at the back were four other drivers: Kaz Grala, who took over for Austin Dillon after a positive COVID-19 test, and was set to start 10th in the #3 American Ethanol Chevrolet; 29th-place Corey LaJoie in the #32 Trump / Pence 2020 Ford due to two inspection failures; 34th-place Stanton Barrett in the #77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet for a driver change with Reed Sorenson; and 37th-place Timmy Hill in the #66 RoofClaim.com Toyota for unapproved adjustments.
When the race started, however, the last spot fell to Quin Houff, who debuted a radical new look on his #00 Bos Klein / Creek Enterprises Chevrolet. Houff was 6.258 seconds back of the lead with Barrett’s #77 in front of him by open track. At the end of the first lap, Houff caught and passed Gaughan, who had to stop for missing a chicane. Gaughan made up time quickly, and by the end of Lap 2 was within eight-tenths of catching Houff.
On Lap 4, as Gaughan began to express concern over his water temperature, he caught and passed Barrett. Barrett then reported more serious issues, saying he smelled fluid and had issues with his brakes. He decided to come down pit road that time by, and was in his stall on Lap 5. The crew looked under the hood, then pulled into the garage area on Lap 7. He entered near Joey Logano’s pit stall and the crew set to work in Garage Stall #37. As the team set to work, they also removed a window tear-off. On Lap 12, he was told to pump the brakes three times and hold the pedal while the crew bled the system. The car re-fired on Lap 16, when Barrett finally completed his fifth lap, now a full 11 laps down in last place. Barrett still wasn’t happy, however, and reported he had a problem with one of the front wheels.
While unchallenged for the spot as many stayed on the lead lap, other contenders began to position themselves. By Lap 32, J.J. Yeley was suffering serious heat exhaustion in the #27 XBOX Ford. On Lap 33, the team decided to pull Yeley behind the wall for a driver change. They picked Bayley Currey, the only person available who still had his driver’s uniform and helmet ready. It’s still uncertain if this violated NASCAR’s mandate that drivers couldn’t run more than one race that weekend. James Davison, Yeley’s teammate in the #51 Jacob Construction Ford, was fighting to stay on the lead lap, then fought to stay in the Lucky Dog spot. Meanwhile, Gaughan had climbed to 32nd by Lap 26.
On Lap 36, the caution, then the red fell for lightning, which stopped the race for more than half an hour. The caution allowed Currey to get one of his two laps back, putting him in a better position for the final stage. When the delay ended, Quin Houff was the final driver to report to his car, and Kurt Busch the last to be ready to restart. However, both Davison and Barrett’s cars wouldn’t refire, and each needed a different truck to give them a push. While Davison needed help figuring out how to re-start the car, Barrett’s refused to turn over, and he believed the #77 had a bad battery. After flipping “every visible switch,” Davison’s car restarted while Barrett was pushed to the garage for the Lap 40 restart. Barrett’s own car re-fired again on Lap 43, and the driver returned to the track a full 15 laps down. While deciding to race to the finish, Barrett twice ran through the grass in the chicanes, plastering wet grass onto the front valence of his Chevrolet.
Around Lap 47, Gaughan reported an issue with his transmission and pulled behind the wall, not wanting to get in anyone else’s way. The driver expressed disappointment, saying he was “finally starting to put some laps together.” As Barrett continued to fight his way around the track, he slowly closed the gap on Gaughan, who by 10 laps to go was the first driver declared out of the race. With three laps to go, Barrett was on the same lap as Gaughan, and dropped the #62 to last place soon after. Barrett advanced no further, even after Kyle Busch’s #18 Snickers Toyota had two catastrophic brake failures that first put him behind the wall, then into the wall on the backstretch.
Rounding out the Bottom Five were Garrett Smithley, who Barrett said he was catching in the #53 True Brand Ford. Smithley’s day ended with battery issues in the final five laps. Taking 35th was John Hunter Nemechek, who suffered crash damage to his #38 Death Wish Coffee Ford following a late spin through the grass.
The day’s most impressive run belonged to Kaz Grala, whose Cup debut in Dillon’s #3 left him a strong 7th place. In so doing, he became the first driver other than Dale Earnhardt or Austin Dillon to start a Cup Series points race in the iconic number since 1984. Jimmy Hensley, Mike Skinner, and even Dillon’s father Mike Dillon had all served relief roles for Earnhardt in years past. Only Hensley was technically credited with a start – and a last-place finish – for putting the #3 on the pole at Martinsville in the fall of 1989.
Also turning heads was Michael McDowell, who finally earned a respectable road course finish to match his background in the discipline. McDowell’s #34 Chicago Pneumatic Ford ran as high as 5th before settling back to 10th at the finish. This was McDowell’s best run since Indianapolis, where he ran a season-best 7th.
For Gaughan, it will be a short turn-around before he runs his next-to-last NASCAR race on the Daytona oval in two weeks. He will close out his career at Talladega on October 4.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #62 in a Cup Series points race since November 15, 2015, when Timmy Hill’s run in the Prairie Auto Credit Chevrolet saw him finish nearly 100 laps down, but still under power, in the Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 at Phoenix.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
39) #62-Brendan Gaughan / 46 laps / transmission
38) #77-Stanton Barrett / 49 laps / running
37) #18-Kyle Busch / 53 laps / crash
36) #53-Garrett Smithley / 60 laps / battery
35) #38-John Hunter Nemechek / 62 laps / crash
2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) JTG-Daugherty Racing (6)
2nd) Motorsports Business Management (3)
3rd) Hendrick Motorsports, Penske Racing, Rick Ware Racing (2)
4th) Beard Motorsports, B.J. McLeod Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Leavine Family Racing, StarCom Racing, Tommy Baldwin Racing (1)
2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (15)
2nd) Toyota (5)
3rd) Ford (3)
2020 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
And with this race out of the way, I will be back to normal
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