The Frontstretch: Mayfield's Final Shot Could Be Green's Last Hurrah by Mike Neff -- Monday October 22, 2007

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Mayfield's Final Shot Could Be Green's Last Hurrah

Full Throttle · Mike Neff · Monday October 22, 2007


One week ago, it looked like Jeremy Mayfield’s Nextel Cup career was nearing a difficult, painful ending. But just when you thought the two-time Chaser was down and out for good … he’s been given one final chance.

It was announced on Monday that Mayfield is going to drive the No. 66 car for Haas CNC Racing for the rest of this season and all of 2008. That ride was occupied, until this week, by Jeff Green, who has now been unceremoniously shoved to the unemployment line. While the seat is not the A-level ride Mayfield’s desired since announcing he’d leave Bill Davis Racing at the end of 2007, it still represents an opportunity, one more chance to prove he can still make a living driving in the Cup series.

After a series of tough endings with top teams, he needs to make the most of this one.

Mayfield has been around the Cup series for a long time. He made his Cup debut in 1993 driving a car for the Sadler Brothers; after a short stint with them and a similar underfunded team owned by T.W. Taylor the following year, he began driving for Cale Yarborough. Mayfield had an unspectacular run with Yarborough, compiling just two Top 5s and three Top 10s in two years with the team before moving elsewhere. Mayfield was then hired by Michael Kranefuss and drove the 1997 season for him, accumulating three Top 5s and eight Top 10 finishes. A breakout year for what was then a single car program, Mayfield’s flashes of brilliance that season proved a sign of things to come.

Kranefuss was bought out by racing legend Roger Penske in the offseason, and all of a sudden, Mayfield was given every opportunity in the world to succeed. He did just that: over the next four seasons, he won three races, accumulating 28 Top 5s and 47 Top 10s with what became the No. 12 Mobil 1 car. After his relationship with Penske deteriorated during a prolonged slump at the end of his tenure, Mayfield was released near the end of the 2001 season and picked up by Evernham Motorsports, with whom he’d drive the next five years. Again, it was a place where Mayfield was handed the tools needed to be successful, and he did not disappoint his new owner: he scored two wins, 15 Top 5s, and 38 Top 10s, making the Chase in each of its first two years of existence. But after struggling much of last year, Mayfield was left out in the cold before being picked up by Bill Davis Racing for 2007. Driving for a brand new team, it’s proven to be the most difficult year of his long career; making just 13 races, Mayfield has failed to qualify nineteen times, with no Top 10 finishes to his credit.

Through it all, there was a common thread among Mayfield's departures from Yarborough, Penske, and Evernham; he spoke disparagingly about the team and the equipment he was being provided each time. The end result was that the owners felt as though Mayfield was causing a disruption within their organization, and they decided it was time to part ways. His knack of causing controversy on the way out the door peaked in the middle of last season, where Mayfield responded to struggles within the No. 19 team by suing the team and leaking through court documents that Ray Evernham was dating a female driver that’s half his age, Erin Crocker. Since then, the veteran’s been running around the garage with a bit of a black eye; despite impressive credentials, most top-level owners were hesitant to even interview him for big rides this Silly Season due to past transgressions. As a result, Mayfield lost out on prime opportunities with DEI, Childress, and several other organizations.

Realizing how this has affected his future, Mayfield has not spoken poorly of BDR, a small team that is trying to compete with the big dogs of the sport with Toyota’s new Camry. Either Mayfield has learned to keep his mouth shut, or he actually realized that he is in a situation where his equipment is simply not going to be on par with the bigger teams, giving him no reason to truly complain.

Now, Mayfield is moving to another organization struggling to keep up with the superteams he once drove for. Haas CNC is not on par with the Hendrick, Roush Fenway, ot Gillett Evernhams of the world; they are a smaller team that is trying to make a name for themselves on a shoestring budget. Like with BDR, Mayfield is going to be challenged to try and keep up with the frontrunners when his equipment is not up to the level of the bigger teams. So the question will be, can Mayfield curb his tongue and work within the framework of the limited opportunities that he will be presented with, or will his mouth get him in trouble again?

While no one will admit to it, the rumor is that Mayfield has been blackballed by the big teams for those comments about his former owners. His resume speaks for itself; making the Chase twice since its inception is something that many other drivers cannot claim. In fact, Mayfield has more wins than quite a few of the drivers who are currently in the series, and has proven to be quite marketable in his commercial appearances over the years. Despite all that, only Haas CNC was willing to take a chance on him, speaking volumes about the current reputation he possesses in this sport. No question, this is Mayfield’s likely last chance to make it in big time auto racing; if this ride doesn't work out, he’ll likely spend the rest of his career racing Trucks, or be completely out of NASCAR altogether.

The driver who Mayfield is replacing is one that has simply never had the kind of success that many people predicted for him. Until Harvick's domination of the Busch series last year, Jeff Green owned the largest winning margin in the history of the Busch Series Championship, and has been given several opportunities on NASCAR’s top level. However, Green's Cup career has been marked by rides with a handful of owners, with his only real success coming with Richard Childress. During the 2002 season, he scored four Top 5s and six Top 10s while driving for RCR. However, in 2003 he only scored one Top 10 finish, and was released by Childress 12 races into the season after a public spat with Kevin Harvick. He made starts for DEI and Petty Enterprises after that, but didn't see much success with them, either. Green actually spent the majority of 2004 and 2005 with Petty, but only put one Top 10 on the board during his tenure there. The last two years, he has been driving for Haas CNC with similar results. In fact, he has accounted for five Top 10 finishes in just under two seasons with the team.

Green has always been thought to have the talent to be a big time driver in NASCAR, but for whatever reason, the chemistry has just never worked out. Will he get another shot? It’s going to be a tough road to hoe. He is 45 years old, which is well outside of the demographic that most of today's owners consider driver material. Barring a surprising development, this may very well be the end of the road for Green's Cup career.

It will be interesting to see where the careers of these two drivers will go from here. Mayfield has shown flashes of brilliance through the years, but has also consistently shown an ability to irritate his owners until they let him go. Meanwhile, Green has the potential to do better than he has, but has never lived up to it at the Cup level…and now, it may be too late. The modern world of NASCAR is turning more and more to younger drivers. Ironically, these two aging warriors are both from the same hometown of Owensboro, Kentucky, a link to racing’s past that finds himself slowly fading away.

At least Mayfield is assured one more shot before the curtain closes.

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10/23/2007 01:17 AM

i think this is a fair look at both drivers.most writers would probably unfairly bash both drivers.

10/23/2007 01:52 AM

Its eazy to see how mayfield could be black balled.Owners don’t like one guy disrupting the entire team.

10/23/2007 02:32 AM

Its not as if Mayfield has had the best of circumstances. He had to deal with being Rusty Wallace’s teammate at Penske which by all accounts was no easy token, as his relationship with Newman was getting strained as well just before his retirement.

Then, at Evernham, after making the chase 2 straight years they decided that the new face of Dodge, Kasey Kahne, needed all of Mayfields equipment to be succesful and the two essentially swapped rides.

I don’t think its fair to blame Mayfield in these situations without at least presenting the situation for what it was. If anything Mayfield should be praised for pursuing other opportunities instead of putting up with the crap he was dealt with.

10/23/2007 07:56 AM

You know what they say about complainers – he who complains the most; cares the most. Unfortunately, the Amercian way is to hate haters. Same with whistleblowers. We’ll listen to what they have to say, then they quickly get trashed and their lives are junk forever. To be successful today, ya just gotta shut up and shovel sh!t until you can find a quiet exit. Let someone else find the problems and mistakes with the company you’re associated with. Put the blinders on and do your job, or quit. Simple as that. I’d like to see Mayfields “black eye” dissappear as quickly as Kurt Busch’s.

10/23/2007 08:49 AM

With his reputation for very public whining and ride-hopping, I really didn’t expect Mayfield to find a full-time Cup seat so quickly after his release from BDR. The Haas team already has distractions off-track, with the owner facing legal problems. This combination just seems destined for failure.

It’s ironic that Mayfield’s teammate next years will be another former EMS driver, Scott Riggs. Riggs has shown a lot more class in my opinion and deserves a second chance. It’s not likely he’ll get his breakthrough with with Haas, but if he can be consistant and keep the car in the top 35 it should be good enough to prolong his career.

10/23/2007 12:17 PM

People need to get the whole story & put themself in his shoes before you start putting him down. At Penske it was Rusty’s doing to start giving him sub par equipment & have him banned from his own garage because Jeremy was doing better than Rusty & Rusty didn’t like it. Rusty also publicly apologized to Jeremy for the way he was treated at Penske by him. Then at EMS after making the chase the first 2 years & the ‘Golden Child’ didn’t Jeremy again was given sub par equiment. He did NOT spout off about things until asked by the press about his problem performance – which he answered honestly. The problem came when Ray ‘fired him’ with no plans to pay him the rest of the year & put Bill Elliot in the car that he took it to court & from there it was released about Erin. Jeremy did not publicly bring that out – the press did. If Ray would have just paid him what he was owed – it never would have happened.

Mike K
10/23/2007 02:28 PM

Mayfield will not last a year in any car. He will want them all rebuilt tot his spec’s. And then it will be someone elses fault

10/23/2007 08:17 PM

Boy I’ll tell you this sure looks like the reshuffling of the decks as the silly seasons of old. You could give either Riggs or Mayfield the best stuff right now, Hendrick equipment and you still wouldn’t see any top ten’s from these guys. The guy they should have kept that has huge potential was Sauter! He actually accomplished a big task this year by racing inferior equipment into a top 35 owner’s point which would be the envy of all the other new teams this year! The legendary Woods Brothers can’t even do that this year!! Sauter can flat out drive on flat tracks and in a couple of years plan on seeing him in victory lane with Robby Gordon Motorsports and in the top 35 in owner’s points!!! The other two will both fall out and Gene Haas can pout about his managements poor decisions from prison! Getting rid of Green who overachieved with 2nd rate equipment is a huge mistake as well! You know Mayfield has been floating around for what 10?13? years now and he’s done little more than Kyle Petty on the track in that same time. He’s not some hot commodity that can just jump in and change an organization by himself! One win every couple of years is not that impressive when your racing a lap or more down most weekends!!! Mike you can quote his Penske statistics all you want but without that superior equipment he wouldn’t have achieved even those meager statistics!

10/24/2007 02:23 AM

The thing I find funny is this author is calling GEM a top team! There highest driver is 20th in points, and Sadler has been falling in points every week. The 10 car has been bad all year!


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