Mayfield now has look of a contender By Brett Borden NEW YORK (Nov. 28, 1998) When Jeremy Mayfield bleached his hair late in the year, people were amazed at the difference. "Can this be the same guy?" they said. In that way, his hair is a lot...
Mayfield now has look of a contender By Brett Borden
NEW YORK (Nov. 28, 1998) When Jeremy Mayfield bleached his hair late in the year, people were amazed at the difference. "Can this be the same guy?" they said. In that way, his hair is a lot like his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career. For when Mayfield put up the numbers he did this year on the circuit, people were asking that same question.
It's the same guy. At least physically, it is. When it comes to how he is perceived by the other drivers, fans and members of the media, he's someone quite different. That Mayfield kid from Owensboro, Ky., has become Jeremy Mayfield, the man.
Other drivers can no longer afford to take Mayfield for granted. If they do, he'll quickly take their position away from them, both on the track and on the post-season banquet stage.
Mayfield made a statement in the season-opening Daytona 500. When he showed up as Rusty Wallace's teammate, everyone thought Mayfield just might play a decent sidekick to the former NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion -- forming a "Butch and Sundance" on wheels. But Sundance finished third in the Daytona 500, and that was the end of the sidekick talk.
Mayfield followed that coming out party with top-seven finishes in nine of the next 14 races. During that stretch he achieved a career milestone by taking the lead in the points standings for the very first time. A runner-up finish in the California 500 presented by NAPA at California Speedway vaulted him into virgin territory, and Mayfield did his best to remain grounded.
"Well, it feels pretty good," he said at the time. "It hasn't sunk in yet. It'll sink in later on. We just gotta take it one week at a time like we've been doing."
They did just that for five more races, culminating in another major milestone, his first career NASCAR Winston Cup Series victory in the Pocono 500 at Pennsylvania's Pocono Raceway. He did it with style, too, passing boyhood idol Darrell Waltrip, then holding off Jeff Gordon in a tough fight for the checkered flag.
"That's the way I want to win it," Mayfield said. "I want to beat the best and that's the best. I knew we had a good car. We deserved this. The whole Mobil 1 team deserved this today. Our engines, Larry Wallace, Power Tech Engines, Mobil 1, Goodyear tires, everybody involved did an awesome job. As we say in Kentucky, bring it on." Suddenly the media was bringing it on to Mayfield, who sat atop the point standings for the third consecutive week after his victory. The word "championship" was being mentioned frequently in interviews.
But after his flat-track victory at Pocono, Mayfield hit a flat stretch on his road to the championship. Bad luck was mostly to blame as the 29-year-old went through a five-race gauntlet where his average finish was 27.8. By the time his downward spiral was over, Mayfield was sixth, and Gordon had lapped him in the standings.
The rest of the year was scattershot, with five top-10s in 11 races. But Mayfield was able to hold onto seventh in the points, as well as most of the luster he acquired in his breakthrough season. When all was said and done, Mayfield had done more in one year than he had in the four previous years combined. His pre-1998 numbers were no wins, five top-five finishes, and 11 top-10s in 110 races. This year he registered his first victory, 12 top-fives and 16 top-10s.
Mayfield established himself as a contender for the championship for many years to come. The Owensboro pipeline, which has also produced three-time NASCAR Winston Cup Series champion Darrell Waltrip, apparently has come through again.
Source: NASCAR Online