NASCAR Race Weekend Central

2008 NASCAR Driver Review: Jeremy Mayfield

Jeremy Mayfield

2008 Rides: No. 70 Haas CNC Racing Chevrolet, No. 40 Chip Ganassi Racing Dodge
2008 Primary Sponsors: Haas Automation, Junior Johnson’s Midnight Moonshine (No. 70), Target (No. 40)
2008 Owners: Gene Haas, Chip Ganassi
2008 Crew Chiefs: Dave Skog, Steve Lane
2008 Stats: 8 starts, 0 wins, 0 top fives, 0 top 10s, 50th in points

High Point: After struggling in his initial races with the team at the end of the 2007 season, Las Vegas offered a beacon of hope that the pairing of Jeremy Mayfield and Haas CNC Racing was going to work out. Friday saw Mayfield qualify 23rd, which was notable in that it was the first time in his tenure with the team that he had posted even a top-25 qualifying effort.

Mayfield and the No. 70 team then backed their Friday efforts with a lead-lap, 16th-place finish on race day that saw both Haas CNC Racing Chevrolets figure out a solid intermediate setup. However, Mayfield’s run at Vegas would prove to be his best effort in what ended up being a short tenure with that team in 2008.

Low Point: The success that Mayfield had in figuring out the Las Vegas Motor Speedway did not translate into success on other intermediate ovals, as he posted a 39th-place finish at Atlanta the very next week. The next Cup race run on a 1.5-mile track was at Texas – and Mayfield again struggled royally. Starting near the back of the pack, he found himself running laps comparable to John Andretti‘s Front Row Motorsports entry, and by race’s end was 10 laps down, finishing 38th.

Mayfield’s fourth consecutive finish outside the top 25 and fifth in the season’s first seven races dropped the No. 70 car out of the Top 35 in owner points, which was enough for Haas CNC to take him out of the No. 70 car permanently. After being fortunate enough to find a full-time gig late in 2007 after the failure of Bill Davis Racing’s No. 36 team, Mayfield had lasted only 11 races before losing yet another Cup opportunity.

Summary: A lot of drivers took turns in the No. 70 Chevrolet in 2008, and none of them found consistent success or was able to get the team back in the Top 35. But Johnny Sauter‘s solid 2007 efforts with the team proved that the car was certainly more competitive than the results Mayfield was posting on the track through the first seven races of 2008.

After his release from Gillett Evernham Motorsports in mid-2006, this was the second new full-time Cup ride in as many years for Mayfield – and for the second time in as many years, he drastically underachieved. Prior to his release after the spring Texas race, the Kentucky native scored only one top 25, averaged a 31st-place finish and undid all the work that Sauter did in getting the now second-year team into the Top 35.

After getting the boot from Haas CNC, Mayfield’s phone did not ring often. Poor results with Haas CNC and BDR, coupled with the driver’s age and long history of feuding with car owners, left the Cup veteran on the outside looking in for the rest of the year. Mayfield only ran one more race in 2008, driving the No. 40 at Dover in relief of the injured Dario Franchitti. Though he performed solidly as a relief driver, scoring a top-10 qualifying run and top-25 finish in the CGR Dodge, finishing 25th, six laps down was nowhere near enough of a head-turner to land Mayfield another Cup ride.

Team Ranking: In his limited time with Haas CNC, there was no doubt at all that Mayfield was the second-tier driver in the organization. Here’s a comparison in the seven races Mayfield ran with the team to No. 66 full-time driver Scott Riggs:

Average Start: Riggs 24.7, Mayfield 32.6
Average Finish: Riggs 25.7, Mayfield 31.0 (Riggs would be 22.0 without pit-road trouble late at Vegas)
Top-25 Finishes: Riggs 4, Mayfield 1

Enough said.

Off-Track News: Mayfield left Haas CNC Racing with a whimper, and a whimper is perhaps the best way to describe any discussion of Mayfield in 2008. Despite a career that has seen the driver win five Cup races and qualify for two Chases, poor results in his last three seasons on the circuit, combined with Mayfield’s history of public feuds with Penske Racing and Evernham Motorsports, have made him an all but unspoken name in the Cup garage. The latter half of 2008 saw Mayfield’s reputation for off-track news keep him out of all racing news in general.

2009 Outlook: Mayfield has washed out of his last two Cup rides, and the two rides he had before that ended on less than amicable terms with both of his race teams and owners. Combine those subpar results with a toxic reputation, and Cup racing in 2009 seems to be all but a pipe dream. Mayfield is obviously aware of this, though, and as a result has turned his eyes to the Truck Series ranks for 2009. While nothing has been made official, Frontstretch insiders have reported rumors of Mayfield buying into Billy Ballew’s No. 15 entry with plans to take the wheel as an owner/driver seem likely to be realized.

On paper, this is a move that makes sense. Kyle Busch‘s success in the Truck ranks speaks volumes as to how competitive BBM’s Toyotas are, and the organization has been a solid, steady presence in the Truck Series for a while. In this economy, there isn’t a driver out there that can complain about having an established, competitive ride. Further, Mayfield’s move into ownership is one that will allow the fiery, outspoken driver to be just that.

At least in theory.

The only downside to Mayfield’s apparent plan to be an owner/driver is the risk that his willingness to vent frustration publicly could pose. Should the team find success early on, this driver is certainly talented enough to be a contender for wins on the Truck circuit. However, should the No. 15 operation struggle, one can’t help but wonder if Mayfield will be able to handle running a team without taking things out on them when it all goes wrong. Mayfield has not dealt well with nor understood his owners in the past; whether he can recognize the responsibility that comes with being one remains to be seen.

2006 Frontstretch Grade: F
2007 Grade: F
2008 Grade: F

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