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Consistent Mayfield Finds Himself at Head of the Class

11 May 1998

By Arni Sribhen
In The Fastlane
With a third of the Winston Cup season already gone, it's no surprise that the top spot in the Winston Cup point standings is occupied by a driver from a multi-car team.

But that driver isn't from Hendrick Motorsports, Robert Yates Racing or even Roush Racing. In fact it isn't even the driver from car owner Roger Penske's stable that has led the points for most of 1998.

Jeremy Mayfield rose to the top of the charts with a second place finish at California last weekend and heads into this month's event at Charlotte knowing he will be on top for at least the next three weeks.

"This is something we've all been waiting for," the 28 year-old said. "We tested at Charlotte a couple of weeks ago and ran really well. I feel like I can get the first win there and we're taking the best race car I've ever had."

The secret to Mayfield's success is consistency that has lacked from car owner Michael Kranefuss' team since forming nearly three years ago. Mayfield has been among the contenders for a win in almost every race this season and like teammate Rusty Wallace, he has won a pole and finished in the top five in more than half of the races this season.

"It's a really good feeling to know we have a team that is competitive week in and week out," Mayfield said. "We haven't won yet but we certainly have been close. We feel like we have won even though we haven't."

Mayfield benefits from his association with veteran crew chief Paul Andrews and the Roger Penske organization. Before this season, Penske expanded his Penske Racing South NASCAR operation by buying half of the Michael Kranefuss team. Mayfield drives the Mobil 1 Taurus for Kranefuss-Penske.

``If we'd gotten off to a start like this at any other point in my career, I'd probably be afraid I was going to wake up,'' Mayfield said earlier. ``It's a dream so far, but I don't think it is totally unexpected.

``Right around the time of the Texas race (last year), everything kind of started coming together for us. The relationship with Rusty and the guys at Penske Racing South was working great and the two teams worked like one team the entire offseason.

``Our goals at the first of the year were pretty simple: win some poles, win some races and finish high in the points standings. We've won a pole (Texas) and we feel like we're on the edge of winning races.''

Mayfield brings to his team a thorough knowledge of cars. He worked as a fabricator for Earl Sadler and later with Cale Yarborough, who gave him his big break as a Winston Cup driver.

``I've always had to work on my own race car. I never had a lot of money,'' the Owensboro, Ky., native said. ``One of the biggest things that helped me get to where I am today is being able to know my race car from one end to the other.''

Kranefuss is enjoying Mayfield's ride as much as he did Ford's resurgence when he directed the company's racing program.

``When I became involved as a car owner a few years ago, these are the types of performances I had in mind,'' Kranefuss said. ``The communication between Paul Andrews and Jeremy is just fantastic. The input we are getting due to the communication between the two race teams has helped both of us.''

TEAM AMICK CUTS BACK EFFORT: The NASCAR Busch Series team of Saluda native Lyndon Amick has cut back its effort for the 1998 season. Originally, the team planned to run a full schedule, but now the team will run selected events, beginning with the Carquest 300 later this month.

"Right now we're just trying to get everything regrouped," said crew chief Buddy Barnes. "A lot of things haven't happened the way this team wanted to this year. It's not about seat time, it's about quality seat time, and I don't think the team came into the season as prepared as it needed to be."

QHICK SHIFTS: Driver Shane Hall and Stegall Motorsports, bolstered by a full sponsorship deal for the rest of the 1998 NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division season, led their first green flag laps in the competitive series in nearly a year in Saturday's Gumout Long Life Formula 200 at New Hampshire International Speedway. The No. 85 Chevrolet, driven by Shane Hall, will be sponsored by Big A Auto Parts for the remainder of the 1998 season.... Mike Swaim, Jr continued his domination of the NASCAR Goody's Dash Series taking that series' event at Caraway Speedway over the weekend. Swaim now leads the points over Ricky Bryant. ... Roush Racing's five entries have 15 top-five finishes in the first 10 races of 1998, led by Martin, Burton and Benson with four apiece. ...There's no official record of red flags, but nobody in NASCAR can remember a string of them like this season. When the big crash ignited by Dale Jarrett's blown engine brought out a red flag last Sunday at California Speedway, it was the fourth time in five races that the Winston Cup action has been interrupted. There have been red flags in Bristol, Tenn., Texas, Talladega, Ala., and California. During that stretch, the only race that wasn't stopped by a big crash was in Martinsville, Va., where the race was run on Monday after being rained out on Sunday.