Mayfield hits it off with new teammate Shawn A. Akers - NASCAR Online DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 15, 1998) With his teammate behind him and a legend in front of him, the final laps of Sunday's Daytona 500 were a gut check for Jeremy ...
Mayfield hits it off with new teammate
Shawn A. Akers - NASCAR Online
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 15, 1998)
With his teammate behind him and a legend in front of him, the final laps of Sunday's Daytona 500 were a gut check for Jeremy Mayfield.
Competing in "The Great American Race" for just the fourth time, the driver of the No. 12 Mobil One Ford Taurus had stars in his eyes and dreams of his first NASCAR Winston Cup Series victory in his head. But he realized there was very little room for error, as he was sandwiched in between leader Dale Earnhardt and Rusty Wallace.
Still, Mayfield gave Earnhardt the battle of his life until the final lap, when he was passed by Bobby Labonte and wound up finishing third in a truly thrilling edition of stock-car racing's biggest event. It was Mayfield's best career finish.
"I knew that was going to be the longest 10 laps of the race," said Mayfield, who ran in the top-three for the final 50 laps of the race. "It seemed like the race got over just like that, and all of a sudden the last 10 laps came up. It was tough. It certainly showed that the 2 car (Wallace) and the 12 car are going to be competitive all year. And this is a great way to start it off."
Earnhardt led the final 60 laps for his first Daytona 500 win in 20 tries. Mayfield was right behind him in second for more than 40 of those laps, at times right on Earnhardt's bumper.
With Mayfield and new teammate Wallace running two-three, the pair had hoped to set something up to get past Earnhardt in the waning stages of the race, but the opportunity never materialized. Wallace lost his place in the single-file line and eventually finished fifth, while Bobby Labonte squeezed his way past Mayfield to place second.
"We were going to try and do something there at the end, but then Rusty got hung out and everybody just got shuffled back," Mayfield said. "We were hoping we could do something with Dale, but we never really got the chance. I was sitting there riding with him all day. I'm not saying that we could have beat him, but I know we had a good car, and then we would have given it our best shot.
"These Mobil One guys just did a super job. They gave me a good car. We just ran good all day, didn't make any adjustments. Good pit stops, just ran good. We fell back a couple of times, we all kept our cool, made our way back up there and just really had a good run."
Wallace had almost the same view as Mayfield for the final 40-plus laps, staring at Earnhardt in front of him. Earnhardt, however, was not to be denied as he had so many times in the past.
"We shoved him and shoved him and shoved him, but we couldn't get around him," Wallace said of Earnhardt. "Man, Jeremy's car and my car ran great all day long, so what a two-car team effort this was.
"It's war out there, man, and it's every guy for himself. When the 18 car (Bobby Labonte) got underneath me coming off Turn 2, I said, 'Oh man, we've got a problem here.' But, finally, Jeremy helped me out."
In their first race as teammates, Mayfield and Wallace worked together like a veteran multi-car team. The two teams began their alliance back in December when Roger Penske, owner of Wallace's No. 2 Miller Lite Ford team, bought Carl Haas' 50 percent of the Kranefuss-Haas Racing team to form the Penske-Kranefuss Racing banner that Mayfield now drives under.
"Jeremy and I worked together like clockwork," Wallace said. "I'm looking forward to us having a lot more races like that this year. Both Penske Fords ran great all day. Jeremy was awesome. We had it rockin' and rollin' all day."
With Wallace on his side, Mayfield, who finished 13th in the points standings last season, gave an indication that he's ready to be considered among the elite in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series.
"This is just a little bit of what you can expect from this team in the future," Mayfield said. "The 2 car and the 12 car, that's what I'm talking about. We're gonna be tough from here on out. I'm real excited about it."
"This is really a credit to our guys," Penske said. "We talked about having a real two-car team where we worked together and were able to share information. The drivers came together very early in this process and the crew chiefs, Paul (Andrews) and Robin (Pemberton), have come together and all the team."
With his finish, Mayfield is now eligible for R.J. Reynolds' "Winston No Bull Five," at Charlotte Motor Speedway in May. If he wins the the Coca-Cola 600 at CMS, he will win $1 million.
Courtesy of NASCAR Online