ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Racers love Road America because of the challenges it offers in a variety of areas.
Toss in rain showers and the challenge of Road America multiplies. It was survival of the fittest.
The survivor? Brendan Gaughan.
Gaughan scored an emotional victory in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series Gardner Denver 200 Fired Up by Johnsonville at Road America.
“I haven’t smelled blood in a long time; that’s something I’ve been lacking lately, that killer attitude,” he said. “When it started raining, I started to smell blood and I said, ‘I’m coming.'”
For Gaughan, it was his first career Nationwide Series victory in his 98th start. It was also his first victory in one of NASCAR’s top-three touring series’ since 2003 in the Camping World Truck Series, thus making it his first triumph since the passing of his grandfather, an instrumental figure in his life, earlier this year.
“I feel like I’d been letting my team down,” Gaughan said. “It’s been a very difficult year for me on many levels.”
Alex Tagliani, the race’s pole winner, made a hard charge through the field late in the race to take second. Kevin O’Connell, making just his fifth career NASCAR start at any level, was third. Chase Elliott was fourth and JJ Yeley was fifth.
“We had a shot at the win,” O’Connell said.
Tagliani ran out of gas with two laps to go while leading, but was able to stay on the lead lap and restart the green-white-checkered finish, which was the third occurrence in the event’s five-year history, in 23rd.
“It was a really good race,” Tagliani said.
Gaughan’s triumph also came after two off-course incidents that forced he and his crew chief to change the strategy in the race numerous times. And that wasn’t counting the curveball Mother Nature threw just beyond the halfway point of the 50-lap race.
For most of the second half of the race, it rained at Road America. It wasn’t a hard rain, but it was just enough to force NASCAR to tell the drivers to go from the traditional slick tires to the wets.