Long Pond II: Dodge - Jeremy Mayfield interview

JEREMY MAYFIELD (No. 19 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Mayfield will start fourth in Sunday's Pennsylvania 500. That's his second best qualifying effort of the season. He qualified third for the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor ...

JEREMY MAYFIELD (No. 19 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T)

NOTE: Mayfield will start fourth in Sunday's Pennsylvania 500. That's his second best qualifying effort of the season. He qualified third for the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

"It's a difficult racetrack to start with. To win at Winston Cup these days, some guys make it look easy for their first win, but back then to make this your first win would be pretty tough because so many things can go wrong and it requires so much focus on knowing how to win a Winston Cup race. I think what helped me up to that point in '98 we already should have won two or three races, so we had the experience of what it took to win. We just hadn't closed the book. This is also could be the last place you won, too, and we've accomplished that also.

"I'm happy with the team. The results are not there and we all know that, but it's still been a good year. I feel like the second half of the season will be better for us. The honeymoon is out of the way I guess you'd say. Now we can focus on what we've got to do and that's racing. The thing I'm happiest with is the progress of the team and the progress I've made as a driver. Bill and I work together great, and all the Dodge people, there's so many positives.

"We keep making ourselves better week in and week out. It seemed like when I first started the teams were kinda going in opposite directions. Now it's different. I want us to keep going in the same direction so we don't have all this Jeremy-Rusty stuff. I don't want Bill and I to be going in opposite directions. Last weekend we qualified better than it looked because of the draw we had. We came back this week and qualified good, and I think we're going to run good because teams are getting closer together.

"I feel like we're moving forward in all the right areas and all the right ways. Everything Ray does is to move forward. I think you're going to see it more from this point on. I feel real good about moving forward for the rest of the year. It's been a building year for the 19 team and really Evernham Motorsports. Bill has been the solid car week in and week out. I think now you'll see the 19 moving back up to where it needs to be and hopefully you'll see the 9 and 19 real close like Rusty and I started in '98.

"Ray is on top of the box, and he kinda does all of the race stuff. We've got a new system in place where we don't really have a crew chief. We've got a team manager and engineer, an owner and a driver. I think that's working real well for us. The thing I'm seeing is not just the race strategy part of it, but I'm able to communicate to them what the car's doing. I've really not changed any of that the way I say things. They're starting to understand how loose it is, how tight it is. I know you've all heard that in the past, but that's the communication deal we've got to get fined tuned. We weren't any good in practice yesterday. We made changes and went out and qualified good. That's telling me they were understanding what I was telling them about the car and they fixed it. We've seen that with Ray and Jeff with the 24. They were having bad days and all of a sudden they were there at the end. That's just good communication.

"From where I came from it was a two-car team, but it really wasn't. It was two separate teams. Here, it's like one team. It's pretty cool to walk in the shop and everybody is working together. I feel good when Bill sits on the pole. When he runs good, I feel good about t hat. Before, if I ran good, Rusty didn't feel too good about that. That's a good feeling for me. It's very important to be on a team like that. That's been the biggest transition for me. It's really not been a Ford to a Dodge or a Dodge to a Ford. It's more with the teams. That's the biggest difference.

"Sometimes you can have the fastest car and not win the race. Nowadays, it seems like there's 20 or 30 cars at the end of the race when the caution comes out, man, pit strategy... do you put four tires on, do you put two on, do you do a gas and go, do you stay out? A lot of decisions are being made in the pits now. Before, you'd just come in and put four tires on. If a guy didn't, you'd go back out and pass him. Now it's so competitive and Goodyear has made the tire so good that track position is everything. That's again got a lot to do with communication with the driver, how bad the car is, do you stay out, do you gamble. Aero plays a big part of it, too.

"We're racing harder, or I am, than I've ever raced in my life. I'm sure from a fan's point of view there doesn't look like a whole lot of racing is going on, but you've got run hard just to maintain. From a driver's standpoint, it's harder than it's ever been. Looking at the big picture, it could look like that. It's so hard to give up track position, you're just going to stay in line.

"Ray's been good to me I guess you'd say becoming more of a driver. I felt like I had a lot of responsibility with the chassis and the car setup. I'm still a big part of that, but I don't have the pressure. Rusty did his own chassis stuff, and I was doing my own stuff. The crew chief just kind of let us know what time practice started. We're structured a lot different. That's really helped me.

"You've got to have different springs, different shock combinations with a harder tire. Most of the time that's the opposite of the way it used to be. I think it's made it harder. Sometimes it's just the opposite of what we used to do when we had softer tires.

"To me personally, it's been a good year. I've just quietly done my own thing and the 19 car just keeps building what we've got going on. I think that's been good for us. Sitting back looking at everything, it's been a weird year. From the outside looking in you step back and say why is all this stuff happening. It's kind of weird. For me personally, it hasn't been so much a weird year. It's just been a year where I'm getting back on track. There are a lot of issues that somebody's got to handle and somebody's got to fix, but I don't know who that is or what it is.

"Ray calls the shots on pit road and with pit strategy. Dave Skog who is our team manager now, we have an engineer, team manager and owner up there. Dave is a part of that conversation and the engineer, but Ray is usually the one, as far as strategy goes, is the one. Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte, nobody really talks about those drivers right now, especially if you're not running good. We came in in '98 and ran like that (young guns) for awhile. I remember Bobby Labonte told me about the circle. You might be on top, but you're going to go back to the bottom and then you've got to work your way back to the top and keep going. At the time I was on top, and I didn't see how we could hit the bottom the way we were running. We knew everything. Before you know it, if you keep doing things the way you've always done it, you end up on the bottom. I watched Bobby do it. I've done it. Dale Earnhardt's done it. A lot of drivers have done that. Their day is coming. They will hit bottom, I promise you. Jimmie Johnson is running good, but they're starting to creep down a little bit. Ricky Rudd is running better. Dale Jarrett is running better. It'll always come out at the end where the veteran drivers... I'm not up to the veteran point yet, but the older guys will start coming back and rotate around. Right now I'm about 9 o'clock. I'm headed back to noon there sometime. It took a long time to go down like that. It's pretty cool when you can come back to the top. That's the warrior in you. You just keep fighting.

"It's always cool on Saturday morning for some reason, cloudy. Then on race day it's sunny. I think NASCAR and Bill France Jr. probably has something to do with that. That always mixes stuff up. We've got a lot of experience here. Ray has run good here. I noticed yesterday. I was watching Bill qualify, and I didn't realize he had won four races here. We've got a lot of experience here. We've just got to go back and see what the track is going to do.

"Roger (Penske) is very involved with his Indy car team. He calls all the shots. I see that in Ray on this side. Yet on the Winston Cup side, Roger wasn't involved with the 12 car at all. I didn't see him very much. When he did come around, we didn't talk much about racing. Ray is like every day, in there fighting for everything that makes the cars better, the teams better, the drivers better. It's just been a deal where if there's a problem it doesn't take two or three weeks or months to resolve. As soon as a problem thinks it's going to arise, Ray's on top of it. He never lets anything get out of hand. He never lets something very little, a little smoke, turn into a fire.

"I think the days of a driver being a chassis guy are almost gone. The young drivers are probably running better because they don't know any better. We've been silently doing our own thing over here on the 19. We know the progress we're making and the direction we're headed in is pretty much a confidence booster for me, knowing I'm going to be a big part of this team when it all shakes out. That's why I'm not concerned. If I didn't see it going in the right direction, I'd be concerned. We're sitting over there doing our own thing and we're pretty confident that we're going to be back on top. I think we all had that pressure in the beginning, but in reality, I think we all knew we couldn't just jump out there and be on top. The difference any more is the driver coming in and bringing new things to the table and bringing things out in the open. We've made a lot of progress because a new driver came in and brought some things and different details to attention. It takes time to get it all together."

-dodge motorsports-

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Jeff Burton , Dale Jarrett , Bobby Labonte , Jeremy Mayfield , Jimmie Johnson