In mid-March when social distancing measures were enacted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Beard Motorsports was already well versed in the practice.
The NASCAR Cup Series team employs just one fulltime person – crew chief Darren Shaw – and has since its debut in the 2017 Daytona 500 when driver Brendan Gaughan finished 11th.
"Literally, the team has one employee, and it’s the crew chief, Darren Shaw," said Gaughan, who currently has 63 NASCAR Cup Series starts dating back to his rookie season in 2004. "He’s the only guy that works on the racecar. That’s it. We don’t have a fulltime team. We don’t have a crew coming in. We have one guy who comes in as the car chief who is an industrial plumber and, when he gets off work or has down time, he comes in and helps there. That’s it. We’ve been social distancing since 2017."
In an industry filled with multicar teams with headcounts in the hundreds, how in the world does Beard Motorsports do it?
"At a very young age, Mark Beard, our team owner, had ambition to run the Daytona 500 and some other Cup races," Shaw said. "We were racing super late models and ARCA and we gave Cup a shot back in 2012 where we tried to build our own engines, but it didn’t work out. So we stepped back and decided that if we were going to give this a serious go, we needed to rent an engine from a legit place and get a little bit of technical support. That’s what we did and it’s been really good since then."
Beard Motorsports has proven to be the little team that could, a modern-day David competing against the Goliaths of the NASCAR Cup Series. Owned by Mark Beard Sr., president of Beard Motorsports and various family businesses,Beard Motorsports has taken a strategic approach to its racing endeavors, forming a technical partnership with Richard Childress Racing (RCR) and running only the superspeedway races at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. With cars constructed by RCR and powered by ECR-built engines, Beard Motorsports has scored three top-10 finishes, the most recent coming in February with a seventh-place drive in the season-opening Daytona 500.
"We were, obviously, pretty ecstatic walking out of Daytona with such a good finish," Shaw said. "Brendan does a really good job of just minding his own business until the end of the race, so we usually have a really good car when it matters. We’ve got good equipment, so we can get up there and run if we need to, but Brendan stays smart and positions himself well to contend and get a good finish."
This was evident in last year’s April race at Talladega where Gaughan led five laps before finishing eighth.
"Everybody loves to say it’s a crapshoot racing at Talladega and Daytona, but it’s not a crapshoot," said Gaughan, driver of the No. 62 Beard Oil Distributing/South Point Hotel & Casino Chevrolet Camaro. "There is thought that goes into it and, if you look at my record with the Beards, go to five laps or less or 10 laps or less in the 13 races I’ve had with them, and in nine of those races, I’ve been in the top-five with 10 laps or less to go.
"To put yourself in that position is an art, and I love doing that. These races are fun. It is an equalizer. It is a chance for a team like the Beards to show up and have a chance to win, and we’ve proven that time and time again. I just really enjoy it."
Gaughan will get to enjoy it again when the NASCAR Cup Series rolls into Talladega on June 21 for the GEICO 500. But unlike past races where the 44-year-old racer from Las Vegas has been able to qualify for a spot in the 40-car field, Gaughan will line up by points, provided Beard Motorsports stays among the top-four independent teams.
That’s because 36 teams own a charter, thereby guaranteeing a starting spot in the GEICO 500. Currently, there are six independent teams, including Beard Motorsports. The highest non-chartered team is Gaunt Brothers Racing, currently 31st in points. Next up is MBM Motorsports, 36th in points. Beard Motorsports is third among independent teams, with a six-point buffer over its nearest competitor, Kaulig Racing. That team, however, hasn’t competed since the Daytona 500 and isn’t slated to compete in any of the races prior to Talladega. The two teams behind it – B.J. McLeod Motorsports and Tommy Baldwin Racing – have been racing since NASCAR returned to action May 17 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, accumulating points all the while. B.J. McLeod Motorsports is 11 points behind Beard and five points behind Kaulig. Tommy Baldwin Racing is 12 points behind Beard and six points behind Kaulig.
Fall outside of that top-four due to the rise of the McLeod and Baldwin teams, and the GEICO 500 happens without you.
"Bristol was a bad race for us even though we didn’t even compete in it," Shaw explained. "Two cars we need to stay in front of had pretty decent finishes because there were so many wrecks. They were a bunch of laps down, but still, when there are only 25 cars left running, you’re no worse than 25th. That cut their deficit to us. I think we’re still good, though, because we didn’t see that kind of attrition at Atlanta, and we don’t typically see it at Martinsville and Homestead either. So, fingers crossed."
Talladega is the second of Gaughan’s final, four-race stretch of races before he retires as a NASCAR driver. He is slated to race again Aug. 29 at Daytona and Oct. 4 at Talladega.
"We’re going to need a really good finish again at Talladega," Shaw said. "I’d like to think we’ll be qualifying again by the time we go back to Daytona, but there’s no guarantee of that. So, running like we did in the Daytona 500 and coming out of Talladega with another strong finish is our goal. We’ve proven that we’re capable of it – a couple of times, in fact."
— Beard Motorsports —