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NASCAR Winston Cup Series Hanes 500 Preview: #37, Jeremy Mayfield

23 September 1997

 #37 Jeremy Mayfield, Kmart/RC Cola Ford Thunderbird
 NASCAR Winston Cup Series
 Hanes 500 Advance
 Martinsville Speedway

MARTINSVILLE, VA - Jeremy Mayfield and the Kmart/RC Cola Ford team
head into the 0.526-mile Martinsville (Va.) Speedway this week, right
in the middle of a six-car battle for the eighth spot in the NASCAR
Winston Cup standings. The 500-lap event will be a key one for
Mayfield, since it has been one of his best tracks in his short
Winston Cup career.

In April at Martinsville, Mayfield pitted on the backstretch and came
from the 29th starting position to finish seventh in the 500-lap
race. That race, as will be this one, was a key early-season race for
the team - its third top-10 of the season and the enabler to move the
Kmart/RC Cola Ford from 16th to 12th in the NASCAR Winston Cup

Mayfield is 11th in the standings with 2941 points but just 14 points
behind 10th-place Rick Rudd (2955) and just 39 points behind
ninth-place Ted Musgrave. As a point of reference, 14 points
represents the difference between as few as three finishing positions
in a single event; 39 points represents the difference between as few
as seven finishing positions in a single race.  Bill Elliott leads the
"Gang of Six" with 3111 points. Among the six drivers, there are a
total of 53 full seasons of experience coming into 1997 - Mayfield
accounts for just two of those.

Mayfield, 28, might be the youngest but also is the undisputed leader
of the "Kentucky Boys," the group of five NASCAR Winston Cup drivers
from Owensboro, Ky., and is, by far, having the best season of the
group. The driver is one of just two active drivers under the age of
30 to have won more than $2 million in a career. Even with his lack of
comparable experience, Mayfield has enjoyed a solidly consistent

Led by crew chief Paul Andrews - one of just six active crew chiefs
with a NASCAR Winston Cup championship - the Kmart/RC Cola Ford has
had three top fives and eight top 10 finishes. Mayfield had two
top-fives and three top-10s in his career prior to this season.

The thoughts of Kmart/RC Cola Ford driver Jeremy Mayfield heading into

"We're pretty excited about getting to Martinsville. That's been a
really good track for me and it's been a pretty good one for this

"The race is April was a great one for us. It was important for a
number of reasons. We had been to Bristol the week before that and
started on the backstretch, but came back with a really strong run
there. We had finished ninth. We'd really wanted a good starting
position at Martinsville, figuring we could be even stronger if we
pitted on the frontstretch. Well, we started 29th and pitted on the
backstretch again, but we had a great car. We worked hard and had some
killer pit stops, and we finished seventh.

"That race was kind of our 'Coming of Age.' It was our second really
solid race in a row and we had a great car. The pit crew was
fantastic. I still can't get over that. We picked up nine total
positions in that race through pit stops. Nobody does that. These guys
were absolutely unbelievable, and they've been fantastic ever since. I
would put our pit crew up against anybody's.

"Outside of one or two races since then, we've had really solid races
ever since that Martinsville race. Maybe our finishes haven't always
shown it because things happen in racing you can't always control, but
we've had a lot of really solid runs. Week in and week out, we're
getting better and better.

"This could be our best chance to win our first race. We know we can
run well there. We've proved it in the past and we have a lot of
confidence going in.  We haven't been getting the breaks on a
consistent basis like we have at times this season but teams make
their own breaks a lot of times. I'd be crazy to predict we're going
to win this race. Shoot, I'd be crazy to pick any single team to win
at Martinsville the way NASCAR racing is and the way Martinsville can
be. But I do know how confident we are about our chances.

"Friday is going to be a key day for us and for everybody
else. Qualifying is so important at these short tracks, and at any
track with two pit roads.  Martinsville is a little different in that
respect from Bristol or even Darlington or Rockingham, for that
matter. Not only is it really important to get one of the pit spots on
the frontstretch but you need to be as close to the first turn as
possible. The further down you are, the greater the advantage. Whoever
wins the pole is going to be one tough dude to beat because of
that. Whoever starts last and ends up with that very first pit on the
backstretch is going to be at an extreme disadvantage. So qualifying
is everybody's first line of attack.

"You have to have a good car and stay out of trouble during the
race. We know we'll have a good car. We're taking the same Kmart/RC
Cola Ford we ran at Richmond and Loudon (N.H.). We finished 10th at
Richmond, even when we finally wore a right rear out on the last lap
and had to limp on in, and we easily had a top-five car at Loudon, but
got caught up in somebody else's mess.

"There are two parts to staying out of trouble at Martinsville. There
is plenty of beating and banging, so you have to control your own
temper. Lose your temper and, next thing you know, you're fighting
with somebody down the backstretch instead of racing away from
them. You sure don't want to lose your temper and have NASCAR notice,
either. Nobody has ever won a race at Martinsville from the 'penalty
box,' and I doubt anybody ever will. The second part is watching out
for somebody else's temper. That doesn't necessarily mean somebody you
might have bumped or hit or slid into but somebody that's mad at
somebody else. You see two guys beating and banging in front of you,
and you'd better watch closely or you'll be in the middle of their

"I might not have the most experience of these guys I'm racing with in
the points but I feel like we can hold our own with them. I have a
team with a lot of experience. Paul Andrews has been around for a long
time and he has been in championship chases before. So have (car
chief) Buddy Barnes and (engineer) Nick Ollila. (Car owner) Michael
Kranefuss went through these things year in and year out, so he knows
what to expect. I'm learning a lot, and loving every second of it."

By Williams Company of America