CLICK: Full race results, qualifying and practice speeds and full Nationwide Series championship standings.
Richard Childress Racing's Brendan Gaughan claimed his maiden win the NASCAR Nationwide Series at Road America on Saturday with victory over Alex Tagliani in the Gardner Denver 200, a race that had been turned upside down by rain setting in at the midpoint of the 50-lap race, and then a second time when the rain stopped and the track dried quickly in the sunshine.
"I tried to give this race away three times today, I was fully embarrassed and not focused enough, but RCR gives us great equipment and my team did not give up on me," said Gaughan. "This is such a great feeling after all the years of trying, we did it. I am so happy I don't even know how to put it into words."
The 38-year-old Las Vegan has been racing in Nationwide intermittently since 2001 but this is his first victory in 98 series starts, his best result before now having been second place at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 2009 while competing for Rusty Wallace Racing.
Gaughan had started the race from fifth place, while - once again making his return to NASCAR as a road course specialist - veteran racer Alex Tagliani started from pole position alongside the young rookie Dylan Kwasniewski. However there was an initial hour-long delay caused by light rain falling over parts of the 14-turn, 4.048-mile circuit in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin which had left it too wet for slicks and at the same time not wet enough for the seldom-used wet weather tyres which NASCAR uses only for Nationwide races at road course events.
Finally officials sent the cars out and racing got underway, and in a reversal of what had been expected it was Kwasniewski blasting clear as Tagliani got swallowed up by the pack. Sam Hornish Jr. was quick to give chase and pass the rookie for the lead in turn 5 while Brendan Gaughan briefly moved into an early second place before getting a little loose on lap 5 and running onto the grass which caused him to drop back, leaving Regan Smith riding shotgun to leader Hornish and Tagliani back up to third place ahead of Brian Scott.
Lap 11 saw the first caution of the afternoon when Stanton Barrett went off-road and slithered across the rain-slick grass into the wall before beaching himself in a gravel trap. At the same time Kenny Habul was spun around in turn 5 by contact with the #44 of Carlos Contreras, and while Habul was able to get going again the same could not be said for Kwasniewski, who had come to a stop in turn 13 with suspected rear gear issues.
The race restarted on lap 16 with Brendan Gaughan in the lead having stayed off pit road under the caution, as he had already pitted off-sync after his run-off on lap 5. Hornish took the green flag down in fifth place behind other non-stoppers, but it took only a lap before he was up to second and hunting down Gaughan for the top spot; Gaughan made it easy for Hornish by sliding wide and onto the grass for a second time, which obliged him to come onto pit road a few minutes later to have his front grille cleaned out to avoid overheating along with getting fresh tyres and fuel.
Hornish was now able to quickly pull out a three-second lead over Tagliani and Smith with Scott into fourth ahead of Trevor Bayne, who had completed an impressive recovery drive after starting from back of the grid because of needing to change his tyres between qualifying and the race after flat-spotting them. Bayne then picked up the lead when increasing rain saw NASCAR throw a new caution at the midway point of the race and order everyone onto pit road to change to wet weather tyres.
Hornish immediately passed Bayne for the lead at the restart on lap 29 which saw both Kenny Habul and Dakoda Armstrong spin off; Tagliani attempted to follow throw and claim the lead only to run off wide, but his second attempt on lap 30 was successful and this time it was Hornish who struggled to stay on the track and gave his rival the chance he needed.
Bayne was also struggling as conditions got wetter, and while he was able to hold off Justin Marks for fourth place (albeit by shouldering the #31 onto the grass) he could do nothing about Chase Elliott passing him on lap 31. Bayne continued to suffer as he was soon passed by Gaughan and a gaggle of additional cars including Marks (at the second attempt), Smith, Ryan Reed and Elliott Sadler as he slid out of the top ten. Bayne's misery was compounded when he spun off into light contact with the wall at turn 8 on lap 34, dropping him down to 16th place before he opted to pit early.
All the time Tagliani had pulled out an impressive lead of almost seven seconds over Hornish, but that evaporated when a new caution came out following the #74 of Bobby Reuse losing power and coming to a stop on the track. There was a mixed approach to pit stop strategies with Tagliani, Hornish, Scott and Smith among those opting to stay out while Gaughan, Elliott and Sadler joined those cars heading to pit road.
Tagliani leapt away at the green flag while Hornish ran wide into turn 1 which released Scott into second position with Gaughan rapidly assuming third place ahead of Hornish. Now everything depended on whether the lead duo could make it to the finish on their remaining fuel, and how quickly the track would dry now that the rainstorms had passed over and the sun was beating down on the circuit.
Gaughan was able to hunt down and pass Scott for second, but Tagliani still had a four second margin in hand with three laps remaining. In the end the matter was taken out of both their hands as the #31 car of Justin Marks ran out of gas and topped out on track on the penultimate lap; not only did Tagliani not have enough fuel left to last a green-white-chequered, the #22 itself ran dry just moments later. Scott and Hornish were also forced on to pit lane, leaving Gauaghan in charge of the restart ahead of Chase Elliott, Andy Lally and Kevin O'Connell.
It was Elliott who got the better restart - an amazing feat as he'd missed ,ost of Friday's practice sessions due to an engine change in the #9. However Gaughan was not to be denied and he pulled off a banzai move for the lead when Elliott got loose, and he then pulled away to claim the win. Elliott lost second place to O'Connell, but both men were passed in the final corners by a flying Tagliani who had used the opportunity of his enforced final pit stop to switch to slick tyres and storm back through the field from 23rd place in the final laps. By contrast, Hornish hadn't felt secure enough to switch to slicks and he remained on the wet tyres, leaving him mired in 12th place at the finish just ahead of Scott.
In the championship standings, Regan Smith's lead falls to ten points after he finished in 13th place this weekend, four places behind his nearest challenger Elliott Sadler; while in the owners stakes the Joe Gibbs Racing #54 maintains a 50 point lead over the Penske #22 despite Tagliani's barnstorming finish at Road America.
Full race results, plus qualifying and practice speeds and full Nationwide Series championship standings.