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Mayfield Making Run at Top 10

June 20, 2004|From Associated Press

Jeremy Mayfield is making his move.

The Evernham Motorsports driver, who has been overshadowed most of the season by rookie teammate Kasey Kahne, headed into today's Nextel Cup race at Michigan on the brink of the top 10 in season points.

His second-place finish at Pocono last weekend gave him three straight top-10 finishes, and put him in 11th place in the standings and very much in the hunt for a spot in NASCAR's new "Chase for the Championship."

Any driver in the top 10, or within 400 points after the first 26 races this season, will be eligible to battle for the Cup title over the final 10 races. After the first 14 events of the season, Mayfield is 441 points behind series leading Dale Earnhardt Jr.

And he has passed Kahne, who already this season has had three runner-up finishes and was 13th in the standings.

"This team is really pumped up, and they deserve to be," Mayfield said. "All along our communication has been improving. When I talk to them about how the car's handling and ask them for stuff on race day, they're able to give it to me.

"And it works both ways, too. We're able to make decisions that we need together and that just continues to help us build confidence."

That came through at Pocono, where Mayfield encouraged his team to let him try to stay on track and gamble on finishing while other drivers were pitting for gas.

It nearly worked to perfection, with Mayfield taking the lead as other drivers pitted. But Jimmie Johnson, trying the same fuel strategy, was able to pass Mayfield near the end.

In his third season with Evernham, Mayfield has apparently taken a big step up.

His average finish of 15.93 is more than 10 spots ahead of what it was this time last year, and he has earned 483 more points and ranks 21 positions higher in the standings than he did heading into last year's spring race at Michigan.

"It's just going to take time to tell, but I really feel confident that this is going to be the best part of my career here," Mayfield said.

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More often than not, Cup races on Michigan's 2-mile oval remain under the green flag for long periods and come down to a fuel economy run with drivers trying to stretch 22 gallons of gas.

"You really have to sharpen the pencil," said Todd Berrier, crew chief for Kevin Harvick. "You know as it plays out that there are 12 to 15 guys that are going to go for it at the end -- or know that they're going to make it -- and you're sitting there floundering around thinking you're a lap short, or not.

"Sometimes, you'll talk yourself into doing things that you typically wouldn't do when it comes down to gas mileage. But, still, enough is enough and if you've got it, you've got it and if you don't, you run out. That's just kind of how it works."

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One of Ryan Newman's eight wins last season came in the August race at Michigan, but that's not the only reason he likes the place.

"This track is kind of like a home track to me -- not only because it's so close to where I grew up in South Bend, Ind., but also because it seems like I got my start in racing here," Newman said. "I cut my teeth, so to speak, at Michigan in an ARCA car, then won my first Busch race there too. Winning last year's Cup race there just topped it off for us."

Newman hopes racing at his favorite track this weekend will kick start a season in which he has yet to win. In five previous Cup races at Michigan, Newman has produced three top-five finishes.

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There have been nine different race winners in the past nine Cup races at Michigan, the longest current streak since NASCAR began racing at the track in 1969.

Martinsville Raceway holds the record with 11 different race winners between spring 1997 and fall 2002.

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