Monday, Nov. 17, 2003 | 9:47 a.m.
Brendan Gaughan might not have won the 2003 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series championship, but he certainly didn't lose his competitive fire.
If anything, Gaughan said he is more determined to return to the Truck Series next year and prove that this year's championship-contending run wasn't a fluke.
"I want to come back (to the Truck Series) and dominate," Gaughan said. "I want to make the Orleans Racing team such a household name in the Craftsman Truck Series that nobody misunderstands who the champions are. I believe we're that good -- and I think we proved that we're that good."
Although Orleans Racing general manager and crew chief Shane Wilson no doubt will cringe when he reads that, Gaughan has shown a knack for living up to such pronouncements. After winning the 2000 NASCAR Winston West championship with two victories, Gaughan announced he would dominate the series the following year and repeat as champion; Gaughan won six of the 12 races and cruised to his second consecutive championship.
Gaughan, who won a series-leading six NCTS races this season, had the championship in his grasp with 33 laps remaining in Friday's Ford 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway when he was collected by Marty Houston's spinning truck and knocked out of the race. Gaughan, who started at the back of the 36-truck field because of an engine change after qualifying, had driven his way into fifth place at the time of the accident.
Travis Kvapil, who was third in points going into the season-ending race, finished sixth and won the championship by nine points over Ted Musgrave. Gaughan, who took 29th in the race, finished 40 points behind Kvapil in fourth place.
Gaughan clearly was upset with the wreck that took him out of title contention, but his anger wasn't directed at Houston. Gaughan was aggravated that rival team owner Jim Smith had fielded two additional trucks -- for Houston and Tyler Walker -- in Friday's race in an attempt to help Smith's primary driver, Musgrave, win the championship.
"It was a bummer the way it happened," Gaughan said. "The fact that another Dodge team did it with a suspect situation really sucked. What bums me out the most is that the Dodge team did not win, that Jimmy Smith choked again.
"It was not intentional. I've liked Marty Houston for years ... but the reasoning that Jimmy Smith put them out there was exactly for this situation. Did he really want something like this to happen? No. But is this the reason that he put them out there, just in case they could be a buffer or just in case they could do something (to help Musgrave)? Yes."
Gaughan said he was not injured in the accident -- which was compounded when Bryan Reffner, who was unable to avoid the wreck, hit Gaughan in the driver's side of his truck. Reffner suffered a broken foot in the incident.
"I thank (Reffner) for doing such a good job of missing hitting me directly in the door," Gaughan said. "It was about 6 inches behind the door ... and that may have saved me from really getting injured.
"I am absolutely OK. I have one bruise on my arm, a bruised ego and a very big bruised heart for my team."
Although Gaughan said his intention is to return to the Truck Series, rumors have been circulating on the Internet that he is being considered for a full-time NASCAR Nextel Cup ride next season with Penske Racing. Gaughan labeled those rumors "premature."
"I'm not sure where that came from," Gaughan said of the rumors. "Dodge is working on trying to get me into two Cup races and two Busch (Series) races next year and I don't know if that came from people hearing that we were talking about that deal.
"My main goal is still getting a sponsor for the truck team -- and we're close there -- and it would be an honor to even do two (Cup) races with Penske. If that happens, that would be something that I never could have dreamed before, to go work for Roger Penske even for just two races."