ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (AP) — Tiptoeing at high speed around a rain-slicked track under the pressure of a two-lap overtime, Brendan Gaughan handed away the lead to Chase Elliott. Then he snatched it right back a few corners later.
He'd still have two more drivers to hold off on the final lap — including a last-ditch charge from Alex Tagliani, the man who appeared to have the race all but won with a little more than a lap left in regulation.
Gaughan already had gone sliding off the track a couple of times earlier. Oh, and his team forgot to bring a windshield wiper to install on his car. Through all that, Gaughan held on to win a rainy and wild NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Road America on Saturday.
"I love racing in the rain," Gaughan said. "It's fun. And when you're good at it, it makes it even more fun. I haven't smelled blood in a long time. That's been something I've been lacking lately is that killer attitude. When it started to rain, even without the wiper blade, I started to smell blood and said, 'I'm coming.'"
Gaughan won for the first time in the series, breaking through in his 98th career start.
Tagliani was second, followed by Kevin O'Connell, Elliott and J.J. Yeley as NASCAR drivers got a rare opportunity to race in the rain. It was the third time in Nationwide history that grooved rain tires have been used in a race; the previous two were in Montreal. NASCAR only uses rain tires on winding road courses, not on oval tracks.
The rain added a tense new dimension to racing at Road America, a four-mile road course where the Nationwide Series already had shown an ability to put on a good show.
"As we showed today, you can put on a hell of a race in the rain," Gaughan said.
After watching his chance to win the race in regulation fizzle out, Tagliani — who was leading when a late caution came out, ran out of gas and refueled his car — nearly charged all the way back to the lead when his crew put him back on slick tires to attack the drying track.