Mayfield returns to Pocono on a roll

Mayfield returns to Pocono on a roll

Jeremy Mayfield is hoping that a repeat performance of past success at Pocono Raceway will be his springboard into the top-10 in the championship points chase. Jeremy Mayfield. Photo by Todd Corzett. Mayfield, who claimed two of his...

Jeremy Mayfield is hoping that a repeat performance of past success at Pocono Raceway will be his springboard into the top-10 in the championship points chase.

Jeremy Mayfield.
Photo by Todd Corzett.
Mayfield, who claimed two of his three career wins at the 2.5-mile tri-oval, is 11th in the point standings. He trails Ryan Newman by 106 points for the 10th and final spot with seven races left before the "Chase for the Championship."

Mayfield has eight top-10 finishes in 20 career starts at Pocono and ran second to Jimmie Johnson in the Pocono 500 in June. He is looking for another strong finish in the Pennsylvania 500 on Sunday (1:30 p.m. ET on TNT).

"It's a place I love going to," admits Mayfield, who will start ninth on Sunday. "I love the racetrack. I have a lot of confidence going in there, and I think my team has a lot of confidence going in there also. That's what it's all about these days, having confidence in each other and feeling good about what you're doing."

Mayfield, who was driving the #12 Ford for Roger Penske at the time, passed Darrell Waltrip with 20 laps to go and held on for his first Cup Series win in the Pocono 500 in 1998. He started 22nd and worked his way through the field for another Pocono win in 2000.

Two months later, Newman, who currently drives the #12 car for Penske, made history by winning the ARCA race at Pocono in just his second ARCA start.

Mayfield left Penske to drive for Ray Evernham in 2002. He hasn't won yet in the #19 Dodge, but has been around the top-10 in the points throughout the 2004 season. He also posted a runner-up finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway in March that pushed him to a season-high seventh in the standings.

The team is working towards consistency - Mayfield has five top-10 finishes in the past eight races and has finished on the lead lap in five of the past six events.

"We've got to continue doing what we're doing," said Mayfield, who made his Cup debut with Cale Yarborough in 1995. "We're racing as hard as we can race, we're flat out, and that's what we've got to continue doing. Right now we're in the offensive mode and we're going to do everything we can to get there (top-10)."

Traditionally, Mayfield has had better results in the first race of the season at Pocono than the second. In 19 career starts, the 35-year-old Owensboro, Kentucky native has an average finish seven spots better in the June race. But, he's planning to finish one spot better on Sunday than he did last month.

"The track changes after we've raced on it one time," Mayfield explains. "It requires a different setup. You've got to really be up on your toes. People learned a lot in the first one, and if you don't do something different than you did in the first one you'll get beat. We've got that in mind, and we're going to try some things. Hopefully we'll be in good shape."

With seven races on the schedule before the cut-off for the final 10 race "Chase for the Championship," Mayfield and his Dodge Dealers team are focused on strong finishes every week.

"We're racing like there's no tomorrow," Mayfield admitted. "We know if we get in the top 10 we've got a chance to win the championship. That's an exciting feeling for our team. After these last few races, it's going to be more exciting with everybody starting over and going at it. It'll be interesting."

Mayfield, Dale Jarrett and Jamie McMurray are separated by less than 30 points for 11th place and each knows that a single miscue on the track or pit road could send their hopes of making the cut into a freefall. Kasey Kahne, Mayfield's Evernham Motorsports teammate, and Mark Martin are also within 90 points of 11th and capable of winning at Pocono.

"I think we're sitting in a pretty good spot right now," Mayfield said. "Other than being in the top five, I'd rather be where we're at rather than worried about somebody trying to move in on us. Everybody is starting to race each other and you see that more and more each week now."

When Bill Elliott announced in the off-season that he was going to run a limited schedule with Evernham in 2004, the team added Kahne, a former open-wheel racer who finished seventh in the Busch Series in 2003. After several years of learning from Rusty Wallace and Elliott, Mayfield was suddenly thrust into the role of being the veteran presence on the team.

"I've never been in a better teammate situation," Mayfield said. "Bill Elliott and I were great teammates. We were great friends, but it seems like Kasey and I are more in tune with our chassis, closer setups. When we're struggling I can go to them and get their setups (and) they can get ours. We help each other, and it's been a great situation. I can say it's probably the best teammate situation out there right now as far as two cars running similar setups. When they're in trouble we help them, and when we're in trouble they help us."

Kahne has exploded into his first season in the Nextel Cup Series -- he peeled off three top-3 finishes in the first four races and has four runner-up finishes in 19 races this season.

While his teammate garnered most of the headlines and captured more attention, Mayfield is happy to be underestimated and sneak up on the competition.

"This team has done an outstanding job about being low key, racing as hard as we can every weekend," Mayfield said. "It doesn't bother us to let Kasey and (crew chief) Tommy (Baldwin) have some credit. They've done a great job and they deserve it. We'll let them take the media and glory and go from there. We'll be the underdogs and we'll be the ones that come back every time and be there."

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Dale Jarrett , Darrell Waltrip , Jeremy Mayfield , Rusty Wallace , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Jamie McMurray , Ray Evernham , Roger Penske , Cale Yarborough , Mark Martin