By not stopping for fuel late, Mayfield ends victory drought

He takes Marketplace 400 for first win of '05 season

Auto Racing

August 22, 2005|By Ed Hinton | Ed Hinton,ORLANDO SENTINEL

BROOKLYN, Mich. - Seconds before the most rollicking victory celebration of the NASCAR season broke out yesterday, Jeremy Mayfield's crew chief, Richard "Slugger" Labbe, put their win most succinctly.

"We had a 20th-place car today, and we robbed the bank," Labbe said, then sprinted to where Mayfield had stalled his Dodge in the infield grass after blowing out both rear tires doing burnouts.

Labbe's rambunctious tackle knocked Mayfield to the ground moments after he emerged from the car, "and I had to do the TV interview with the breath knocked out of me," Mayfield said later.

The win was Mayfield's first since Sept. 11 in Richmond, Va. That one had vaulted him into the 2004 Chase for the Championship at the last possible moment. This one was just as dramatic, and a lot more zany.

With five laps left in the GFS Marketplace 400, Mayfield found himself and his mediocre car in the lead for the first time. Ahead of him, as the laps wound down, four different race leaders had pitted for necessary last gulps of fuel, and so had all other apparent contenders.

Then they all waited - along with an estimated 160,000 at Michigan International Speedway - for Mayfield to run out of gas. He didn't. And it wasn't just luck.

Serendipitous as it seemed, Mayfield's win had been highly calculated.

By late afternoon, Labbe had total confidence in Mayfield's ability to conserve fuel.

During the pitting frenzy of the last 20 laps, Mayfield slipped away so unnoticed that with three laps left, when Matt Kenseth passed Carl Edwards, "I thought it was for the win," Kenseth said after finishing third. "Then Robbie [Reiser, Kenseth's crew chief] told me, `There's still two other cars ahead of you.' "

The second was the Chevrolet of another regular underdog, Scott Riggs, who like Mayfield had forgone a late gas stop and was running to the end on fumes. So Mayfield knew he could continue conserving fuel by going easy on the gas pedal, running just hard enough to keep Riggs in his mirror.

"I knew he couldn't run very hard or he was going to be in trouble," Mayfield said.

The drivers with faster cars for the day - Kenseth and his Roush Racing Ford teammates Edwards and Kurt Busch, along with Chevrolet drivers Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson - had hoped for a caution flag late in the race to give them free pit stops.

But Labbe knew that "history says that after 150 laps this place goes green," he said - and indeed, no cautions came out for the final 51 of the 200 laps. So, he and Mayfield had counted on the long green-flag run.

Four-time season champion Jeff Gordon, who started second with hopes of a strong run to break into the top 10 - the criterion for making the Chase - wound up 15th in the race, and only crept from 13th to 12th in the standings.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

Points leaders

Top 10

Leading drivers after 23 of the 26 NASCAR Nextel Cup races in the Cup Chase for the Championship.

Driver Points Wins Tony Stewart-x 3,268 5

Jimmie Johnson-x 3,142 2

Greg Biffle 3,016 5

Rusty Wallace 2,979 0

Mark Martin 2,899 0

Jeremy Mayfield 2,869 1

Kurt Busch 2,848 2

Ryan Newman 2,773 0

Carl Edwards 2,758 2

Jamie McMurray 2,702 0


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