Jeremy Mayfield, driver of the No. 12 Mobil 1 Taurus, comes into this weekend's Kmart 400 with one victory in 2000 (California) and is 16th in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. He held a Q&A session earlier today in the Infield...
Jeremy Mayfield, driver of the No. 12 Mobil 1 Taurus, comes into this weekend's Kmart 400 with one victory in 2000 (California) and is 16th in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings. He held a Q&A session earlier today in the Infield Media Center and spoke about his season and expectations for Sunday.
JEREMY MAYFIELD --12-- Mobil 1 Taurus --
WHAT IS YOUR ASSESSMENT OF THE FIRST HALF OF THE SEASON FOR YOU?
"I'd probably have to say pretty wild. The first half of the season has been different. Overall, it's been a great first half -- that's the way I look at it. We've won a race, we've got a pole, we've run good and learned a lot and come together as a team probably better than any team out there. I feel like we've made a lot of gains, not only on the performance side of it, but on the team side of it. This team has gotten stronger and stronger through all the adversity and everything it's gone through. So, I'm looking forward to the second half of the season just because of that."
WHAT HAS BEEN THE DIFFERENCE FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM IN THE PAST YEAR?
"Man, in one year it's been all the difference in the world. At this time last year we were struggling. We couldn't not only get the team to gel together, but we went through a lot of stuff going wrong. We had parts breaking or running out of fuel -- we had a lot of problems last year. This year, you don't see that out of the 12 car. We're there and we feel like we're right on the verge of becoming a team to contend with week-in and week-out, so from one year to the next it's been huge as far as how far this race team has really come."
HOW ABOUT YOU AS A DRIVER THIS PAST YEAR?
"I don't want to brag, but I feel like I'm 10 times a better driver right now than I've ever been, especially last year. I went through a lot last year myself and Paul Andrews left us last year, so I went through a learning curve and I think that's made me better. I had to step up and be a part of helping the team gel together and get back to where we need to be. It's made me really want it bad as far as running good week-in and week-out, so I think it's made me a better driver because of that."
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE AND WHERE DID THE IMPROVEMENT COME?
"I think it started about the last six to 10 races last year. I kept saying that this team isn't going down and that we'd keep getting better and better. That's probably where it started was last year, just the momentum that we had going and how bad we really wanted it. Last year, if we had a 16.50-second pit stop we were happy with that. This year, if we get in the 16's we're disappointed with it. I mean, our pit crew has stepped up. All the areas that it takes to run good -- the cars, the bodies, the engines -- Larry Wallace over at Penske Engines has done a great job so far this year. He always does, but our motors are outstanding right now. Every area has picked their end up and that's the way we looked at it. Peter and I went in over the winter and said, 'What do we gotta do?' And we felt we had to assess all areas and work on every one of them to make everything and everybody on our team step up to the plate and they've done that. I'm very proud of everybody because it's taken a total team effort to get us where we're at. If I had to sit here and say one thing did it, it wasn't, it was all the little details. You heard that about Ray Evernham -- always paying attention to details -- and I'm a firm believer in that especially when I've seen my team go from being in a rut and hitting rock bottom last year at this time back up to where we are now being able to contend for races. It's pretty awesome."
HOW DIFFICULT WAS IT FOR YOU PERSONALLY KNOWING '98 WAS SO GOOD AND '99 SUCH A STRUGGLE?
"It was tough. I always try to look at it like a circle. Bobby Labonte and I talked about this. It's funny you said that because I mention his name now -- he's leading the points. It's like when you're running good you're up here and when you start running bad and have a few bad races, it just continues to go down and all of a sudden you go 'boom' all the way to the bottom. A lot of teams don't make it back up and drivers. You see it happen all the time. Strong teams and strong drivers always seem to get right back to the top somehow and that's kind of what I felt I went through. Before '98 I had never been up there, so I'm sitting there trying to "work my way up and, boy, we finally won and were leading the points and running good you feel like, 'Man, you're almost up there where you need to be where you start being a contender week-in and week-out.' By the time we got there it seemed like -- between a lot of things, Rusty and I at the end of '98 weren't really working together that well, and it kind of took a nosedive. Then the crew chief change and just a lot of stuff happened last year that we went on down to the bottom and looked around. We don't want to be there again, so we've feel like we've been around that circle a couple times. I've heard the same thing out of a lot of drivers out there and I think you see it a lot. You look at a lot of teams out there that run good and, man, you think they're gonna be a dominant team and all of a sudden they just disappear. I know the feeling."
WHAT DO YOU DO TO MINIMIZE THAT TIME AT THE BOTTOM?
"I think the way I've looked at it is you've gotta get everybody around you. As a driver you've got to have a team that's built around you and everybody is pulling for the same goal. If you don't have that, then it's really easy when things start going bad to fall down. What we've been though the last month-and-a-half with this race team, that shows you we've got a team that's not going down anymore. We had to face probably the worst thing you can face in the garage area and came right back and won a race. We've been running good week-in and week-out and had a chance to win every race since then. I mean, if you look back at all the tapes we've been up front every week and that's what you've gotta have. You've got to have everybody pulling together and not pulling each other down or giving up and heading in different directions. I think it's all about the team. I mean, as a driver sitting here you've gotta have everybody around you as a race team. I couldn't be able to win races and run good without that race team. That's what's important, it takes everybody doing their job."
ARE YOU AND RUSTY WORKING AT STANDARIZING EQUIPMENT TO SHARE MORE INFORMATION?
"That's been a question for a long time. It's hard. With the way we started, the 2 car was already established and, at that time, the 37 car was already established. They were building their own chassis and we were building ours. If we went in open-minded and said, 'OK, if the 2 car would have just started the 12 car in one shop you could have done that.' But when each team has their own structure and their own cars already built, it's hard to go back and change and start over and build all brand new race cars. That's what you'd have to do to really get that and get to where you need to be like that. We haven't really come to a common chassis yet, so that's been our problem. Then after we do, then you've gotta get it built and that's trouble. So it's a major overtaking to do that and that's why we haven't done it. It's not that we just don't want to or we're both hard-headed -- which that's probably true to -- but we just haven't been able to make it happen yet. I'm sure in the future you'll see it, but right now I love the cars I drive. They're running good and we're starting to learn more about them and I hate to give that up. It's the same with him, so it's gonna be a tough deal."
DOES YOUR TEAM SPEND EXTRA TIME WORKING ON FUEL MILEAGE?
"I think we've spent a lot of time on fuel mileage. If you look back at our record, we've been pretty good at running out of gas. We run out quite a bit (laughing). We come here and I try not to think about it because anytime they come on the radio and say you need to watch your fuel-pressure gauge, I know right there...I'm like, man, I see it start dropping and I'm ready to come in and get some fuel because we've run out so many times. What's bad is everytime I've run out, I guarantee you, probably if I've run out 10 times -- nine out of the 10 I've run out just past pit road and had to coast all the way around. And while I'm coasting around here comes the lead pack twice -- boom, boom, boom. That's happened so many times and that's not a good feeling, but the engine shop has worked hard on that and we're gonna work hard on that today trying to do the best we can at it. They talk about drivers being able to conserve fuel and all that and I haven't been able to do it because you've gotta keep up. Everytime I let out of the gas, we always fall back, so I don't know how those guys do it. They must have really fast cars because I can't do that. Hopefully, we'll get it worked out here for sure." HOW IS IT TO HAVE PETER BACK? "It's great having him back. It's a relief to me. Everybody had to step up to the plate while he was gone and it was like three or four of us trying to fill the crew chief's role, so it feels real good to have him back. We certainly missed him big-time, but I didn't realize how much I did miss him until I got here without him and I'm on the radio during the race saying we need to pit now and make all the calls. It's a tough deal and I respect what he does."
YOU TALKED ABOUT THIS BEING A TEAM DEAL, BUT DO YOU FEEL YOU'VE TAKEN ON MORE OF A LEADERSHIP ROLE THIS SEASON?
"I think I have, big-time. I made a commitment to the team and everybody at the end of last year. I've given up a lot of my personal appearances. Everything I did that was distracting me I've given up. I told the guys who work for me that I didn't want to be distracted this year. I wanted to go into 2000 and win races. What gets drivers here in the first place is they give 110 percent everyday racing. It's race, race, race, race, race. That's all we hear. Then when you get here, you start going 90 percent then 80 percent, then 70 percent because all of your time gets gone and you don't think about racing. Before you know it, you're doing appearances all week and doing different things. A lot of those things are brought on by ourselves. We make commitments to go here and do this and do that because it's part of the deal, but I said I'm gonna slow down a little bit. Not that I'm gonna stop signing autographs or anything like that, I love that, but I've had stuff that I've put on myself and I decided I wanted to stop that. At the beginning of the year I made a commitment to my team and everybody that I was gonna be in the shop everyday and be right there with them and I've done that. I think it's very important for the driver to pull the guys around you and be a part of them. I guarantee you, you go to our team and we're tight. We're all for one and one for all over there and that goes from the front of our shop to the back of the shop and that's what you've gotta have. That's what makes strong race teams and keeps you from if you do go down in that hole you can get back out."
YOU'RE CONFIDENT ALL THE TIME, BUT THIS CAR IS THE SAME ONE YOU WON WITH AT CALIFORNIA. DOES THAT MAKE YOU EVEN MORE CONFIDENT FOR TOMORROW?
"I'm very confident. I've got four cars that I call my favorite cars -- my 9, 10, 12 and 18, my new car. This is my 9 car and it's like I can go out this morning and I know going off in turn one exactly what it's gonna do. I can run off in there no problem and it just works. I know what it takes to make that car work and how to communicate it back to Peter and all the guys. I've got the utmost confidence that we can win here and then go into to Pocono next week and win there. That's what I'm saying. Last week we were leading. The 20 car and myself had the best cars and we had trouble. But you look back, Charlotte we were leading, Dover we were leading -- we're coming. I've been saying that a long time and I mean it now. We're as pumped up and fired up now as we've ever been and we're not gonna let up. I read a shirt last night somebody had on. It said, 'Losers quit when they get tired and winners quit when they win.' That was awesome and that's the way I feel like this race team is and that's what we're gonna do."
Dale Jarrett, driver of the No. 88 Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus, was the second-round fastest qualifier and is scheduled to start 26th in tomorrow's Kmart 400. Prior to re-qualifying, Jarrett spoke about tomorrow's race.
DALE JARRETT --88-- Quality Care Service/Ford Credit Taurus --
DOES YESTERDAY'S ENGINE PROBLEM GIVE YOU ANY CAUSE FOR CONCERN WITH THE RACE ENGINE?
"No, they're totally different. Everything in the qualifying engines is light stuff and you're doing everything you can to make it go fast for one lap, but no concern."
CAN YOU COPY THE SETUP FROM LAST YEAR'S RACE TO THIS YEAR?
"No, I wish it could. It couldn't even for the second race last year. With the change of the tire it just asks for something totally different and each time we kept trying to go back to that, it just doesn't work with the way the sidewall is with this tire. You just can't do it."
WHAT ABOUT YOUR EXPECTATIONS TO DEFEND YOU WIN LAST YEAR? "We expect to win, that's why we come here. We certainly aren't foolish enough to think we can go out and dominate the race like that, the competition is too strong. As we've seen with all the different race winners there are a lot of people in the mix now, but we fully expect to be challenging to win the race."
HOW TOUGH WILL IT BE DOING IT FROM MID-PACK?
"It makes no difference, none whatsoever. It's a long race. At the beginning of the race last year I fell back to 15th or 16th spot at the start because I was a little loose, so that won't be a determining factor whether we win or don't win -- where we start here. We have plenty of time, if we have a good-enough car, to get to the front."
DO YOU EXPECT TO DO WELL HERE BECAUSE OF YOUR HISTORY?
"We've always done well here, but, there again, we've always had something to rely on and that's the setup. Very seldom did we vary from that very, very much. It was just in little bits here and there that we would change the car, but now it's so totally different. I don't really drive the track any different, but trying to find the setup that works with the way that I feel like I need to drive the track has made it a little bit more of a challenge."
IS THIS A TRACK YOU CAN USE AS A MEASURING STICK?
"This is a race track that I think offers itself to a lot of people to run well at. It's a wide-open track, but it does take a total combination of handling, aerodynamics and horsepower. To be thinking about a championship, you have to have that total package so, from that aspect, I would say yeah, you can see what teams really seem to have it together. If they can run well here, they're probably gonna do well at most places."
HOW WAS PRACTICE THIS MORNING?
"We worked on race setup all morning. We worked on race stuff and tried some shocks and things that we wanted to get out of the way that we won't have to try now in Happy Hour. We spent a good 50 minutes of the practice this morning getting race ready, so that way when we get to our last hour we'll be in pretty good shape."
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE RULES CHANGE FOR PONTIAC?
"You wonder about that, but I don't make the rules and that's up to NASCAR as to what they want to do and what they feel is necessary for the best of this sport. All we can do is work on our Fords and make them the very best that we can possibly make them and, hopefully, that's good enough. If not, then we just come back the next time and work a little harder and try something different."