Brendan Gaughan has driven a complete season in Sprint Cup and has 162 starts in the Camping World Truck Series, but at age 34, he's a rookie in the Nationwide Series.

"We've been joking all year," Gaughan said. "I finished second in the Sprint Cup Rookie of the Year in '04, won the Camping World Truck (ROY) in 2002. I killed the curve in the Nationwide Series for age this year. The average age at the beginning of the year, they told us, was 23 or 24. It would be a whole lot younger if I wasn't there."

The veteran NASCAR driver with the rookie tag has put his experience to use in his first Nationwide season. Driving for Rusty Wallace Racing, Gaughan is eighth in the points entering Saturday's Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250 at Gateway International Raceway in Madison, Ill.

Gaughan finished second at Lowe's Motor Speedway and fourth at Kentucky Speedway but has only three more top-tens in 18 races.

Crew chief Bryan Berry returned from a four-race suspension last week at Chicagoland, and Gaughan believes the work Berry did in the shop during his time away from the track will pay dividends at Gateway, a nearly flat 1.25-mile oval.

"While he (Berry) was gone, he spent a lot of time on the flat-track program, spent basically ... a week doing some engineering stuff, what I always call a Bryan Berry science project," Gaughan said. "Usually, when he does a science project, it works out well for me.

"He's basically coming with some new (suspension) geometry that he wants to try for us at Gateway, similar to what we did at Phoenix (where Gaughan finished seventh) and change a few things around because of how tight Gateway's (Turns) one and two are. When Bryan Berry does his science projects, I get excited."

Gaughan sees additional progress further down the road in the second half of the season from the team's new technical partnership with Kevin Harvick Inc.

"It's still brand new," Gaughan said. "You can't really read too much into it so far. Last week, Steven (team-mate Wallace) drove a KHI car that they built for our race team. You can definitely see a lot of differences in the aerodynamics of it.

"We're enthused doing something with Kevin. Look at how great his team has been running, no matter if you put Kelly Bires, Kevin, Ryan Newman (in the car). Every guy that drives it, they end up being in the top ten, qualifying in the top five. They've got great stuff. Kevin has worked with Richard Childress, has all their information. It's only going to benefit RWR."

Gaughan won two truck races in 2002 and six (including at Gateway) in 2003. He jumped to Penske Racing in Cup the next season, drove all 36 races and finished 28th in points. Then, it was back to the truck series, and Gaughan went four seasons without another victory. He decided it was time for a change and joined forces with Wallace, his teammate at Penske.

"I've always enjoyed being with quality race teams and great organisations and people," Gaughan said. "My old South Point (truck) team, I loved it to death. We didn't have a lot of success in the end of it, but we had a lot of success early.

"I'm having a fantastic time. I'm with a great organization. I enjoy the heck out of Rusty, his whole family. The biggest deal is we have great equipment and have great sponsors, which makes life so much easier."

Gaughan trails Justin Allgaier in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings, 183-175. Even though he qualifies for the award, it doesn't seem high on his list of goals.

"I have to give it up for Justin," Gaughan said. "As far as rookies go, Justin is a premiere rookie, doing a great job this year."

by Tim Tuttle and Bill Marx/Sporting News