LAS VEGAS – With a throwback crew and honoring his throwback years in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, Brendan Gaughan returned to his roots and earned a top-five finish in Thursday night’s Star Nursery 100 at The Dirt Track at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Gaughan, who won back-to-back K&N West titles with Bill McAnally Racing in 2000 and 2001, reunited with his former team owner at the half-mile Nevada dirt track for the first series event on dirt since Ascot Park in 1979.
Carrying sponsorship from his family’s hotel chain – South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa – Gaughan’s No. 62 Toyota was crewed on Thursday night by members of his championship-winning crew from his “glory years” in the K&N West ranks.
“We got the band back together,” said Gaughan of the effort.
It was a wild effort, too. Gaughan was 13th in practice and qualified 11th, but survived a wild 100-lap event that resembled a dust devil in the desert to cross the line fifth at the end of the night.
Gaughan cracked the top five inside of the final 10 laps and then hung on to the finish, scrapping with Cole Keatts and his fellow BMR teammate Cole Rouse before slotting in between them as the checkered flag waved over the field.
“I might need an extra shower after that one,” Gaughan joked. “That race was definitely interesting; it was an interesting evening. The start to the race was amazing … it ended up being a really great race, but it started out in crazy fashion, for sure. This is one that everyone is going to want to watch on TV.”
The craziness that Gaughan referenced included a multi-car incident amid a giant dust cloud shortly after the initial start of the race, leading to a lap-eight red flag for additional track preparation.
“It was impressive that we survived the early laps there; it took a lot of off-road racing skills and some blind luck,” noted Gaughan. “That’s what got us through the early laps, before they threw a caution to wet the track down a little bit. It was still a good night, though.”
Of particular note, in Gaughan’s eyes, was the number of fans that turned out for the first K&N West dirt-track event in nearly four decades.
“What a great crowd; oh my goodness,” Gaughan said. “For a dirt track on a Thursday night at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it was packed. The grandstands were full. It was a great way to start off the weekend, even if the racing was a little suspect for a few minutes.”
One of Gaughan’s BMR teammates, 17-year-old NASCAR Next class member Hailee Deegan, nearly won Thursday night’s event, finishing as the runner-up to Sheldon Creed in a heartbreaker after she set fast time in qualifying and won her heat race to start on the pole.
Regardless of the final outcome, however, Gaughan had plenty of praise to offer Deegan for her impressive performance.
“Hailee Deegan, I tell you what … she almost had it,” Gaughan noted of his young teammate. “She had a few mistakes that cost her, but she came back to second and did a great job. I was really impressed with her.”
With the Las Vegas dirt track in his rear-view mirror, Gaughan turns his focus to Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series South Point 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where he’ll serve as the grand marshal and give the command to fire engines prior to the opening race of the playoffs.
“Sunday could be the longest ‘start your engines’ in history,” Gaughan laughed. “I might have to go for a little bit and give my monologue about watching my daddy (race) when I was three years old.
“I’m excited and honored to have the opportunity and it’s going to be a cool moment.”
First, however, he got to share one more cool moment with many of the people that helped propel him to a successful career at the top level of the sport – a career that included starts in all three of NASCAR’s national series.
“We finished a proud fifth. I couldn’t end a K&N race and not finish inside the top five,” Gaughan said. “This deal was really cool. The best years of my life were with these guys, this crew … to have everyone come back together for this and to get a good finish out of it means the world. It’s super special.”