NASCAR Winston Cup Series Mountain Dew 500 Preview: #37, Jeremy Mayfield
27 August 1997
#37 Jeremy Mayfield, Kmart/RC Cola Ford Thunderbird NASCAR Winston Cup Series Mountain Dew Southern 500 Advance Darlington Raceway JEREMY MAYFIELD NOTES & QUOTES: MOUNTAIN DEW SOUTHERN 500 DARLINGTON, SC - Jeremy Mayfield and the Kmart/RC Cola Ford team head to the revamped Darlington (S.C.) Raceway this week and NASCAR's most storied race, the Southern 500. Facing an old track with a new look - the start-finish line has moved to what was the backstretch - the team heads to Darlington with a strong hint of what it needs to do and a lot of questions as to what will work. Eleventh in the NASCAR Winston Cup standings, Mayfield is still well within one race of reaching seventh. The hot points chase for seventh through 12th has become even hotter, yet Mayfield is the only new name to emerge this season among the top 10. The others have been through the battles before. Considered one of the top up-and-coming young drivers in NASCAR racing, Mayfield, 28, is one of just two active drivers less than the age of 30 to have won more than $1.9 million in a career. Of course, Mayfield is in just his third full season of Winston Cup racing, while the Kmart/RC Cola Ford team is in its third full season of operation. Neither has been in the top 10 of the standings before this year but, among racing observers, neither was a surprise to crack it nor will either be a surprise to finish there. Crew chief Paul Andrews, 40, is one of just six active crew chiefs to have won a NASCAR Winston Cup championship, his coming in 1992 with the late Alan Kulwicki. The thoughts of Kmart/RC Cola Ford driver Jeremy Mayfield heading into Darlington: "I guess the main thing on a lot of people's minds is Jeff Gordon. They're sitting there with a shot at the Winston Million and everybody knows that. The drivers have it in their minds just as much as the fans do. You tend to want to say, 'If I can't win the race, I hope he does' but the way drivers think, there isn't anything after 'If I can't win it.' If there is anything else, it'd be, 'If I can't win it, I hope the earth opens up and swallows me whole because I'm not going to care a whole lot about what who does.' "The Winston Million has been a good deal for our sport. It's good that it has been won but it's good when it isn't won too. I felt pretty bad for Dale Jarrett last year. They had a great car and a good shot, and they just had a bad break. I felt pretty good for Bill Elliott back in 1985 when he won the thing. The fact that he won it proves it can be done. The fact that a lot of guys have come close without winning the thing proves it's no sure thing. "Getting to the point where you even have a chance at winning the Winston Million at Darlington says a lot about the whole deal. The thing that makes it so neat is the differences in the tracks. Daytona and Talladega are a lot alike, even though I wouldn't call them identical. Charlotte is something to itself, especially considering it's the only 600-miler of the four and the only one to run the bulk of the race under the lights. Then you throw in Darlington, which is its own deal entirely, and you can see it's not an easy thing. "Gordon and them have had a great year. That's the reason they are in a position to win this Winston Million and in a position to win the championship. I have a lot of respect for (Gordon crew chief) Ray Evernham, but that sure isn't a small club. They've run well and they've run smart this year. They deserve a chance at winning the Winston Million. "Now that doesn't mean this Kmart/RC Cola Ford team or anybody else out here is planning on rolling over for them. I've got one heck of a team and one heck of a crew chief in Paul Andrews. We feel we can run pretty well at Darlington, too, and we're going to do everything we can do to win the thing. Like anybody else out there, we won't race Jeff Gordon any differently than we do anybody else or any differently than we've raced him all year. We're going to go as hard as we can go and do everything we can do. If we win the Southern 500, I don't know there will be any more satisfaction than in just winning our first race. Even if he finished second, it wouldn't change anything. Man, you win a race and, once it's over, you don't care who is second. "Not that Darlington will be easy for us or anybody else. As a kid, you dream of racing at different places - Daytona, Indy, Darlington. But if you knew what it was really going to be like, you would dream of other places with a smile on your face. Your dreams of Darlington would make you wake up in a cold sweat, screaming for your momma. "The place is tough, pure and simple. It's a real driver's race track. With the one end being smaller than the other end, there is no way to set the car up perfectly. You have to compromise somewhere. The guys who handle the compromises the best are the ones who run well there. I have a great crew who can get me to a point at Darlington, and then I'll have to take it from there. The groove is usually pretty small and it's tough to pass in the turns. The thing is, you have to take the chances to pass when they come and that can lead to trouble. "You have to look ahead at any track but at Darlington you'd better be looking more than just a straightaway head. In your mind, you have to be looking a lap or two ahead. Sometimes you can see trouble developing and you know to get around it or to stay away from it. Darlington catches people asleep sometimes, too, though, so you never see trouble - they just tell you about it when you limp back to the pits. "We're heading there planning on winning the Southern 500, planning on a real solid run and a real solid weekend. We're going to get some momentum built back up because we're in the thick of a points battle ourselves. Believe me, I wish Jeff Gordon, Ray Evernham and those guys all the luck in the world, but this Kmart/RC Cola Ford team is planning on a big weekend at Darlington." By Williams Company of America, Inc.