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Park Ends Four-Year Drought in California

Redemption is the perfect description of Steve Park’s (No. 62 Jasper Engines & Transmissions Dodge) drought-ending victory on Feb. 25 at California Speedway.

Park’s rising star – he won two NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series races driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc. in 2000-01 – made a detour after the driver suffered a serious injury at Darlington Raceway nearly four years ago.

Many said Park, 37, couldn’t again climb the mountain.

Park disagreed; so did NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series team owner Michael Gaughan, who put the Long Island native behind the wheel of his Dodge last year. After an early season plagued by mechanical trouble, personnel changes and bad luck, Park clawed his way to ninth in the series’ point standings with a best finish of third at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The faith of driver and owner finally paid dividends as Park, in winning the American Racing Wheels 200, became just the 10th competitor to post victories on NASCAR’s three national tours – NEXTEL Cup, Busch Series and Craftsman Trucks.

Understandably, the victory was an emotional one for Park.

“From the time I came back I knew I could win races,” said Park, whose victory came virtually four years to the day of his last NASCAR NEXTEL Cup win on Feb. 26, 2001 at North Carolina Motor Speedway. That track’s date was switched to California this year; the change bringing with it the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race previously run in the fall.

“It seemed like nobody else had confidence,” he said. “I’m hoping this puts closure to it. It’s a story of winning races, getting hurt, losing your job (and) struggling back to winning races again.”

Some said Gaughan, owner of several gaming resorts in Las Vegas, was taking a big gamble on Park – and with long odds. Park thought otherwise both then and now.

“I felt from the time I got back in the race car with the right opportunity I could do that again,” said Park, whose last NASCAR NEXTEL Cup season was a 2003 split between DEI and Richard Childress Racing. “I was never given the opportunity until Mr. Gaughan called last year and said, ‘I want you to come back and drive my truck.’

“There was opportunity I was going to take but this just felt right in my heart.”

Ironically, Gaughan’s son Brendan – a six-time series winner in 2003, who spent the past year on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series – returned to the Orleans Racing team as both general manager and Park’s teammate for 17 races. The younger Gaughan (No. 77 American Racing Wheels Dodge) finished 21st at California Speedway.

“Brendan and his dad are awesome people,” said Park, who stands sixth in the championship standings after two races. “Their confidence never wavered. We’ve got confidence where we can not only win races with our race team but with Brendan’s, too. It’s great to have a friend like that.”
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