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Pit strategy salvages win for Brendan Gaughan

Brendan Gaughan gets off-course at Road America
Brendan Gaughan gets off-course at Road America
Getty Images for NASCAR

A call by crew chief Shane Wilson to bring driver Brendan Gaughan down pit road on lap 39 of the 53 lap (scheduled distance: 50 laps) of the Gardner Denver 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., on Saturday turned out to be the call of the race, as it turned a far-from-perfect race from Gaughan into a race won.

"I tried to give the race away three times today, and I'm fully embarassed," Gaughan said in victory lane. "They (his team) didn't give up on a jack-off driver."

The call for Gaughan to pit differed from strategies by race front-runners such as Alex Tagliani and Sam Hornish Jr.

The race started about a half-hour late when light rain dampened the track too much for a race on slick tires but not enough to make rain tires effective. The race eventually started on a dry track, with Hornish having the dominant car.

Tagliani started on the pole, but by the end of lap one around the four-mile track, Hornish was in the lead. Hornish led most of the way until the yellow flag waved for more rain on lap 25. This time around, the track got wet enough for teams to put on rain tires and continue racing.

After Hornish led a total of 25 laps, Tagliani dominated the wet second half of the race. He took the lead with 22 laps remaining of the scheduled 50-lap distance. Tagliani, Hornish and others didn't look to have any plans to pit late in the race when the yellow flag waved with about 13 laps to go.

While Gaughan and others pitted, Tagliani, Hornish, Brian Scott and other front-runners remained on the race track. Despite running off the track three times earlier in the race, Gaughan in position to take third from Hornish when Hornish ran wide with eight laps remaining.

With Tagliani and Scott in front of him, conserving fuel in an attempt to get to the end, Gaughan, not worried about fuel, gained on the first and second-place cars. He took second from Scott with four laps to go and then inherited the lead from Tagliani when Tagliani ran out of fuel during the final caution of the race.

Feeling the track was dry enough for racing slicks at the end, Tagliani's team put on slick tires for the green-white-checker finish. As a result, Tagliani restarted 21st, but was able to make his way up to second in the final two laps. He did made contact with a few drivers along the way, including Chase Elliott.

"He just didn't show us a lot of respect, I felt like," Elliott said of Tagliani.

Elliott wound up fourth, behind Kevin O'Connell. J.J. Yeley rounded out the top-five. Finishing sixth through 10th were Jeremy Clements, Andy Lally, Landon Cassill, Elliott Sadler and Mike Bliss. After leading a race-high 25 laps, Hornish finished 12th.

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