Mayfield to take the fifth? CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Sept. 29, 1998) With the championship all but decided, a lot of eyes have turned to three of NASCAR's youngest drivers as they battle for the fifth spot in the title chase. Just 46 points ...
Mayfield to take the fifth?
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Sept. 29, 1998) With the championship all but decided, a lot of eyes have turned to three of NASCAR's youngest drivers as they battle for the fifth spot in the title chase. Just 46 points separate fifth place Bobby Labonte, 34; sixth place Mayfield, 29; and seventh-place Jeff Burton, 31.
The consistency of Mayfield and the Mobil 1 Taurus team could be a major factor in how it all shakes out. He has 15 top-five and 25 top-10 finishes in his career, 10 top fives and 14 top 10s coming this season.
Mayfield got his official first NASCAR Winston Cup Series victory earlier this season at Pocono Raceway, but he actually had broken through a few weeks before that, at the track where the series visits this week -- Charlotte Motor Speedway. Mayfield won the Winston Open, the prelude to The Winston all-star race. He hopes that his team can match that finish on the 1.5-mile speedway in Sunday's UAW-GM Quality 500.
"Back in May, Charlotte was a great springboard for us," Mayfield said. "We did great in the Winston Open, winning it, and we had a really good run going in The Winston until we ran into some problems. It seemed we had a few more problems in the 600 the next week, but we finished 19th. After that, though, we turned around with four straight single-digit finishes: fifth at Dover, sixth at Richmond, fifth at Michigan and our win at Pocono.
"That's the same kind of springboard we need for the last part of the season, except with a really good Charlotte finish on top of that. We're down to the last six races of the season. We're right in the thick of the points chase, and still have a reasonable shot at any position out there. Obviously, a top five is the most realistic and that's a really worthwhile goal. Still, there's no sense running if you're not shooting to win everything you can win."
And that means the championship. The chances for Mayfield at this point may be between slim and none, with slim walking out the door, but he will maintain his focus on it until they officially tell him he's out of it.
"The championship is everything," he said. "I mean, you spend a lot of time thinking about winning races and winning poles, and that's really important. But the championship is what it's all about. It's the reason we're all out here. We start the season at Daytona with a 50-car tie for the lead and take it from there.
"The series is really built around the championship and it's the most important thing you can win. I think that really started to take hold back in the 1980's when Darrell (Waltrip) was making such a big deal out of it. Then he won his first (in 1981). Then it was a big deal because Bobby Allison had never won one, until he won his first (in 1983)."
Mayfield doesn't have to look to the Waltrips and Allisons for inspiration, though. He has it in his own Penske family.
"I've looked over there and seen the Winston Cup championship ring on Rusty (Wallace)'s finger," Mayfield said. "I know what it means. I know what it means to him, and I have a pretty good idea of what it would mean to me and this race team. That's NASCAR's symbol that you are the best. For one year, nobody was better than you. For one year, you were everything. Paul (Andrews) knows that feeling. He knows what it's like. I don't think either one of us could be hungrier for it - Paul, since he knows the feeling and wants to get it again, or me, who hasn't won one yet but wants to really bad."
Certain people will have to run really bad for that to happen, though.
"This year? That all depends on what happens up top," Mayfield said. "Jeff (Gordon) is the guy to beat, no doubt. He and Ray Evernham have had a heck of a year and if they go on to win it, they certainly deserve it. But things can happen. Things can happen in a hurry and you can lose a lot of points really quick. I know Jeff and Ray know that, and they're doing what they can to run consistently and finish races. My thinking is they've gone from trying to win the championship to trying not to lose it. As big as their lead is right now, that's just smart thinking."
Mayfield & Co. can't afford to think that way. They are the hound, not the fox, so they have to go for it on the track.
"We're fighting, too," Mayfield said. "The top five is pretty important to us, as far up in that top five as we possibly can. We don't have the luxury of being able to be conservative in these last six races. We have to go all out all the time. The only thing that's going to guarantee us a top five finish is winning races. That's the most points you can get. That's the best you can do.
"The season has gone on for a long time now but this isn't the time to get tired. This is that point in the season where you have to be your absolute best week in and week out. I know Rusty and Bobby (Labonte) and Jeff (Burton) and all of those guys are going to be at their very best every week, so we have to too, just to keep up. And we have to dig a little deeper and work a little harder if we're going to do the things we want to do."
Six races remain on the 1998 NASCAR Winston Cup schedule. Each week the biggest race remaining will be that week's race. This week that race is the UAW-GM Quality 500 at Charlotte.
"Charlotte's going to be a big race for us, just like it will be for everybody else," Mayfield said. "This is the beginning of the end. These last six races are going to determine a lot of futures. They are going to determine a lot of seasons, good and bad. When it's all over, some drivers are going to be heroes and some aren't. Some crews are going to be big time, and some aren't.
"The pressures of just being around this sport can be pretty high. Because of what it can mean to your year and to your career, the pressures of these last six races are really going to be strong. That's where I have an advantage with a crew chief and some guys who have been through this before. I don't know I'd want to go through this without Paul Andrews and the guys on this Mobil 1 team.
"A year ago at this time, we were 10th in points and just 61 points out of ninth. We ended the year by missing the top 10 by just 29 points - that's six finishing positions. We did not give up anything last year and we kept going, but just one lucky break here or there could have made the difference in finishing in the top 10 of the points and not finishing there. It's the same right now. We know every position is crucial. Every mistake we make could cost us a lot; every extra bit of hard work we put in could reward us a lot. A little luck could be really beneficial. A little bad luck could be crucial."
Source: NASCAR Online