Mayfield may take the fifth By Brett Borden PHOENIX (Oct. 20, 1998) The 1998 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season is likely to go down in history as the year that Dale Earnhardt got the Daytona monkey off his back and Rainbows reigned for the...
Mayfield may take the fifth By Brett Borden
PHOENIX (Oct. 20, 1998) The 1998 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season is likely to go down in history as the year that Dale Earnhardt got the Daytona monkey off his back and Rainbows reigned for the rest of the year. But quietly there is another story brewing that could influence the history books in future seasons.
Jeremy Mayfield, Bobby Labonte and Jeff Burton, three of the linchpins in NASCAR's foreseeable future, are locked in a tight battle for fifth in this year's standings. With three races remaining this season, just eight points separate the trio. But it's a world of difference between a top-five finish in the points and a top-10.
"This has been a pretty good year for us," Mayfield said. "A top-five finish in the points and another win would make it a heck of a year for this Mobil 1 bunch. That's two good goals for us, and two we're working hard to reach. To finish in the top five, we know we have to look at every finishing position as precious. Whatever it takes to move up another spot, we've got to do it. If that means running a little harder, working a little harder, or just trying to get one more lap in, that's what we have to do."
The first of the three remaining races is Sunday's Dura-Lube/Kmart 500 at Phoenix International Raceway - a stark contrast from last Saturday's Pepsi 400 at Daytona International Speedway. About the only two things the tracks share in common are ownership and an abundance of sand nearby.
"After Talladega and Daytona, it's almost going to seem a little weird to be going to a track like Phoenix," Mayfield said. "We're going from the high banks and the really high speeds, the drafting and the freight trains to a 'driver's' race track. These flat tracks can be a lot of fun for a driver, and they can be a lot of heartache, too. It all boils down to how close you can come to getting dialed in."
Mayfield has received a dial tone in all 14 flat track races this year, but sometimes he has been rudely hung up on. He finished 42nd at Indianapolis after a cut tire sent him into the wall (he was running second at the time) and 30th at the first New Hampshire race, where he was eighth with nine laps remaining before the same thing happened again. In the other 12 flat track events, Mayfield has averaged a 10th-place finish.
With fellow bulldogs Labonte and Burton scrapping for the same bone he's after, 10th probably won't get it done for Mayfield. If he is to take the fifth (position), he'd better shoot a little higher than that.
"For the most part, Phoenix is a dogfight," he said. "You work to out-muscle and out-handle everybody. Beating 42 other cars out there is a tough, tough deal.
"Phoenix comes at a weird time of the year, too, with the points situation and all. Everybody is fighting for points. Jeff Gordon is thinking about the championship. Mark Martin is too, but he is also thinking about holding onto second place. We're thinking about finishing in the top five. There is a big group of guys racing to finish in the top 10. Then you have the top-15 and top-20 groups. And the payoff goes on down to 25th, so all of those guys are thinking about points."
Mayfield has 17 top-five and 27 top-10 finishes in his career, 12 top fives and 16 top 10s coming this season. Regardless of how the last three races turn out, he has already had a breakthrough year. But don't expect him to let any of that soak in until after that last checkered flag drops.
"Golf courses, scenery, and all of that stuff is nice," Mayfield said. "Phoenix is an awfully nice place to visit and can be a lot of fun. But we're probably going to have to overlook all of that stuff and concentrate everything on getting this Mobil 1 Taurus around that track as fast as we can."
"There have been plenty of times where you see a guy get hooked up really well at Phoenix and, all of the sudden, he's the class of the field. Dale Jarrett last year is a good example. He was so hooked up he was able to come from a lap down to the lead just by running great lap after great lap. If he hadn't been a lap down at one point, imagine what he would have done to the rest of us.
"I think that's what every team out here is looking for. A perfect setup at Phoenix is going to be a really, really nice day for you. It's hard to get to that point and you have to work pretty hard to get there but, man, if you get there, it's like you're dreaming or something. You've heard of basketball players getting 'in the zone' or something like that, where everything works, where they can't miss anything. That's where Dale Jarrett was in this race a year ago and that's where everybody else is working to be.
"That's not to say Jarrett or anybody else will be there this race this year. It's pretty rare to see somebody hooked up like that.
Source: NASCAR Online