JEREMY MAYFIELD (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge) NOTE: Mayfield, a 34-year-old driver from Owensboro, Ky., finished second last Sunday in the Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and moved up to seventh in the series standings after the...
JEREMY MAYFIELD (No. 19 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge)
NOTE: Mayfield, a 34-year-old driver from Owensboro, Ky., finished second last Sunday in the Golden Corral 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway and moved up to seventh in the series standings after the first four races. He finished sixth in last season's Mountain Dew Southern 500 at Darlington and has five top five finishes at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped oval heading into Sunday's Carolina Dodge Dealers 400.
"We had a great weekend this past weekend. We felt like going into Atlanta we were going to be pretty good because we had good luck there in the past. I feel like we had a good setup. We went in with the mindset of not making any mistakes and we'd have a good finish, and that's kind of what happened. It seemed like the last couple of weeks after Rockingham, Vegas and Daytona, we were really good at Rockingham. We went to the back three or four times because of mistakes, one of them made on pit road. We had a tire rolling across pit road and that kind of stuff, but we had a good car. We went to Vegas and we were pretty good but kind of beat ourselves there. It seemed like everything went our way at Atlanta."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE SOFT WALLS AT DARLINGTON?
"I'm going to tell you how I feel about that. I don't understand. We just came from the fastest racetrack on the circuit. There's not a soft wall anywhere at Atlanta. Now we're going to Darlington, and you don't even need soft walls at Darlington. We need to run up close to the wall. I think that's the only place the asphalt is any good any more. They've taken it away. I think it might take some of the excitement out of Darlington. I think it adds a little extra excitement for the fans running up close against the wall. Now you're not going to be able ride up against the soft walls because the groove is not there. You run up against the wall because you go up there and the asphalt is a little better than what's below it. We're going to be sliding and sliding into the wall. Darlington is worried about keeping their date, but if the race is not any good, they might be losing their date."
DID THE TRACK REALLY CHANGE AT ATLANTA? "You look at the 8 car and he and I were really loose at the start of the race. We kinda of run around in the top 10 or 12 and worked our way forward. As the day went on the track got tighter and we kept getting better. It got to the end and I was a little bit too tight. It's funny because me and Dale Jr. were pretty much together all day long and we ended up first and second. That's pretty cool. Kasey's car ran pretty good all day, too, but they chased the racetrack several times. Tony's car just went away or he got discouraged when he got passed a couple of times and banged the fenders in. I'm sure that didn't help any. I know early in the race he was good and the 48 was good and at the end of the race the 8 and 19 and 9 were good. That's typical of Atlanta. When the sun came out the track would change and when it went back in again, it would change again on you."
ARE THE TIRES RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR SUCCESS? "I think what's helping us is we have a good understanding of our cars now coming off last year. That's what I said about Rockingham and Vegas. We over adjusted at both of those places and got ourselves in a bind and couldn't get back up front. We adjusted a different way at Atlanta, and that helped us. Normally you see the cars that start out real good in the beginning haven't been that good at the end. The track changes and the conditions are a little different than they used to be. I think you're chasing the tire a little bit because it's a different style tire. You've got to understand what you're working with with the tires and car and weather. Everything is so sensitive any more. If you're not careful you can be out to lunch real quick. That's what we're doing. We're not as aggressive as we used to be with our changes during the race."
DOES THE CHASSIS NEED TO BE BUILT DIFFERENTLY? "You've got to make everything a little more forgiving. When you've got a car that has a stiff chassis, you're more aggressive with your setups. Now, you're not going to be able to get by with that. You've got to have stuff that's more forgiving. That means maybe you don't need a stiff car, maybe you don't need aggressive shocks like you used to run. It's still the same basics. You still have all the downforce you can get. You still have a good setup, but there are things you can do to make it less sensitive to the track conditions and tire."
HOW HAS YOUR ATTITUDE CHANGED IN THE PAST YEAR? "This is by far the best situation I've been in forever. We've come a long way from a year ago. We've got an awesome team right now, probably the best team I've ever been with. A lot of credit goes to Ray (Evernham) for putting the right people in the right places and building the team that would work for me. I feel like this is it. I feel like this is a great situation. The last couple of weeks we didn't look like much, but we still had great race cars and ran good. I'm excited we've got momentum from last year and are rolling. We should be OK."
ARE YOU FEELING ANY PRESSURE FROM KASEY KAHNE? "Not really, Kasey has done a good job. I've been saying this for awhile. I don't want to sound like an old-timer or nothing, but I have been racing (Nextel) Cup for a long time and I understand what goes on and things happen. You run good some days and some days you don't. There's nothing I can do if you come down pit road and a wheel comes off or stuff happens. I know I'm giving 100 percent every time I'm out there, and that's all I can do. That's what Kasey does. If he has a bad stop, he can't make that up, either. I think he and I are getting long better than any teammate situation I've been in. We're having a good time and like helping each other."
WILL THE SOFT WALLS AT DARLINGTON HANDICAP VETERANS AND BENEFIT ROOKIES? "It might not benefit the rookies more. I don't think they realize how slick the place is going to be, and they might be in the wall quicker than what they normally are. I don't think it's right. I'd like for somebody to explain to us why we put soft walls in at Darlington. I don't understand that when we're going to Atlanta and there's nothing there. I'm sure if you hit the wall at Atlanta you're going to hit a lot harder than you are at Darlington. That's what I don't understand. As far as benefiting any of us, I don't think it's going to benefit anything. If you do wreck, it's going to be a little softer, but you're sliding at Darlington anyway and it's not like you're going to have a lot of grip when you're going into the wall hard. I think all it's done is taking away the groove, whether you're a rookie or you're not a rookie. You're probably going to see a lot of cars running a lot slower through the corners because we can't get up to the top and run. There's not going to be a top groove. We're going to be on the bottom sliding around I guess. We'll have to wait and see what happens, but it might not be a good situation."
ARE YOU COVERING UP THE HOOD SO PEOPLE WON'T LOOK AT THE BACK OF YOUR CARS? "When you race and you're trying to get by with something or pushing it right to the edge, it used to be you'd do that. You'd put the focus on one area so they wouldn't look at the back. But if you put the focus on the area you are working on and they think you're working on the back, they still ain't got a clue."
IS THERE TOO MUCH BIG BROTHER? "They're probably right. We don't need to be on TV cussing and all that stuff or on the radio. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. You can still be hot-headed and say what you really feel without saying the wrong words. I don't really think it's changed a lot other than you have to be more careful not to let something slip as far as the language part of it. I used to worry about it, but I don't worry about it any more. As long as you say what you feel and the truth, that's all you can. I certainly don't want to be cussing on TV. I got in trouble for that last year, but you've just got to watch that and not let something slip that shouldn't. Sauter proved that a couple of weeks ago. I don't think he'll do that again. I think it's right. I think we need to keep it clean and go from there."
IS THE YOUNGER GENERATION BRINGING A DIFFERENT LIFESTYLE TO NASCAR? "Maybe it's just a new lifestyle coming in. I don't really know how to answer that. We have a lot of young guys, and then again there's not. Gordon is getting older. Junior is getting older. There's not just a bunch of 20-year-olds out there racing each other. You've got a lot of mixed ages in the group. I think you'll see a trend coming in that kinda changes the looks of things and style, but that's with any sport or anything that goes around the world. Somebody is always going to come in and change something."
COMPARE THIS YEAR TO LAST YEAR "There's no comparison. Last year we thought we were going to be good but still not for sure. The confidence level was kinda there. Kenny (Francis) was just starting as my crew chief. Really there was a lot of unknowns. This year going to Daytona it was a whole different world. Everybody was pumped up at the shop. We knew we could get the job done. We all believed in each other. It was totally different from last year. This is the kind of year you look forward to when you go over the winter months and you can't wait to get back racing. You know your stuff will be right, and you know everybody is on the same page and headed in the same direction. It's just a world of difference."
IS IT JUST A COINCIDENCE THAT THE TWO EVERNHAM DODGES ARE IN THE TOP 10 IN POINTS? "I don't think it's a coincident. If you know Ray well... That's the biggest reason I wanted to come here when I left the 12 car. I knew in the future he would get there, and that's where we are now. Everything he had planned and his way of thinking what he wanted out of this race team is finally coming together. The good thing about it is we're just now getting started. We're just now getting to where he wanted to be. I don't think it's a coincidence that both cars are running good week in and week out just because of the way he's got it set up and the way he does things."
ARE THE TWO TEAMS FEEDING OFF EACH OTHER? "Oh yeah, big time, and that's what good. We're two teams, but really one big team. When Kasey ran second at Rockingham, we didn't have a good day but we had a good car. We just didn't capitalize on it. The good thing about Kasey running second was that helps our whole program. When he runs good, it's good for us. When I run good, it's good for us. When we both run good it's good for us again. No matter what the situation is, it's all good. We support that. He supports me, and I support him. When he runs good I'm the first one over there or I'll call him on the phone and congratulate him. I'm proud of him. I think it's been great for our whole program."
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED MOST FROM RAY EVERNHAM? "There are so many things. When I first started there, day one, I started gathering so much information from him. There's no one big thing, it's all the little detail stuff he does. It all trickles down through the organization. I'm constantly watching him. Ever time I talk to him I try to get something out of him. Probably the way he goes about running his race team. He's good about putting the right people in the right places. When I first started there I didn't understand what direction we were going in and all of a sudden things happened and it all made sense. The way he runs thing and how much he loves racing and the confidence he brings to the table is unbelievable. I'm not just saying that. Last year we were up and down, and he and I are best friends now. He helped me be a better racecar driver by being around him and learning all the little things from track to track."
HOW MUCH DO YOU NOTICE THE ROOKIES ON THE TRACK? "When you get around the 9 car with a yellow stripe on the back you don't know it's got a yellow stripe on the back. He already knows how to race. I'm not worried or concerned when I'm running around him in practice or in the race. There are cars out there you get up beside or start to pass and you're not sure about them. They'll cut down on you. You see a lot of that. A lot of guys will cut down on you or drive up on you. They don't understand we're racing the leader not each other. If you run side by side for two or three laps you've lost half a second or second to the leader. You get around the guys who know how to race and the more you're around those guys and the rookie who doesn't figure that out, he doesn't make it in this sport. Racing a guy that's going to turn down you all the time or racing side by side you race him totally different. It doesn't matter if he's got a yellow stripe on or not, when you get there you've got to get around them one way or the other. Sometimes those are the guys that wreck a lot or get wrecked. Kasey, you don't have to worry about him. He's going to be good."
HAVE YOU NOTICED A CHANGE IN RAY EVERNHAM? "The last couple of years have been tough years for all of us, myself, Dodge, Ray and everybody. We saw the light at the end of the tunnel last year, and we've got more support from all the Dodge Dealers. Everybody out there is excited. I think Ray feels real good where we're at right now as a race team and that's from last year. You saw a difference in him toward the end of last year and all of a sudden it's like now you know you're headed in the right direction and it starts snowballing. It starts at the top and when he feels good about the direction we're going in, that gives him a whole different lease on life. It all trickles down to us, and now we're more confident about what we've got going on. Now we know we're headed in the direction he wants us going in, and it's just a snowball effect. We came into this year like that, just rolling down the hill. I think it's got a lot to do with where we're at being competitive week in and week out. It kinda of started toward the middle of last year. Ray needs to be in the situation he's in now with both cars running up front. That's where he's worked hard to get. A lot of people don't give him credit for that. Ray's going to be a winner. When we weren't winning, the media was on him pretty hard. He fought a tough battle. Now we're where we should have been last year. I think he's more at ease with himself and pleased with what's going on."
HOW HAS THE ORGANIZATION GROWN AND WHAT WAS THE KEY TO THE GROWTH? "I've definitely seen a ton of changes. The growth has been sky high, how much bigger and better everything has gotten. It starts with Ray and Dodge. Dodge gives us a ton of support. It's unbelievable when I got here, the difference between other manufacturers and their race teams and Dodge and their race teams. Everybody at Dodge is excited. They just keep supporting our program and giving us all the resources we need. John Fernandez (Director, Dodge Motorsports Operations) has done a great job. It overwhelms me support we get from them. It overwhelms me even more when Ray takes that and puts the right people in the right places and forming it all together. It's a big deal, and something I've been very blessed to be a part of and see how it's taken shape. It starts with Ray and Dodge. They're the ones that provide us with resources and things we need to race with, and it's been overwhelming to me."