Mayfield Wins NAPA Auto Parts 500

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FONTANA, Calif. -- The way things have been going lately, Jeremy Mayfield wasn't surprised when the engine in his Ford suddenly died on the final restart in the NAPA Auto Parts 500.

"I'm used to it because I usually run good and then something happens," Mayfield said Sunday after overcoming a series of problems to earn his first victory in 22 months and 62 races.

The last of those problems came on the final restart, just four laps from the end of the 250-lap event, when Mayfield's ignition died as he led Bobby Labonte into the first turn on the 2-mile California Speedway oval.

The driver stayed calm and switched to a backup ignition. By that time, Labonte had pulled alongside, but Mayfield was able to hold onto the lead and go on to win by 0.300-seconds - about eight car-lengths. Rookie Matt Kenseth finished a career-best third.

The win could hardly have come at a better time for Mayfield and the Penske-Kranefuss team.

It has been pretty grim around the team since NASCAR tore down Mayfield's No. 12 Mobil Ford during a random inspection following the April 16 race in Talladega, Ala. That led to an investigation into the alleged use of an illegal additive in the gasoline he used that day.

Mike Helton, NASCAR's senior vice president and chief operating officer, confirmed Friday there was a probe ongoing but declined to give specifics or answer questions about the situation.

Although Helton said nothing would be announced until sometime this week, speculation has run rampant, with talk of six-figure fines, suspensions and loss of Winston Cup points.

"I don't know what to say because it hasn't come out yet," said Mayfield, who also overcame a burning hot cockpit and a lost lap. "We'll all know on Tuesday what's going on. But these two weeks have been pretty weird for us."

It got a little more weird four hours after Sunday's race when NASCAR announced that a routine inspection of the winner's car found the roof was lower than the minimum 51 inches from the ground.

"After the race, Jeremy jumped on the roof of the car during his celebration," said Danielle Humphrey, a NASCAR spokesperson. "Everything else passed the inspection fine, but the roof was lower than allowed when it was measured."

Humphrey said the infraction would not affect Mayfield's victory, although the car was impounded by NASCAR and any forthcoming penalty will not be announced until later in the week.

After the race, Helton was asked how Mayfield's win might effect NASCAR's investigation.

"We'll see Tuesday," he said. "We view each race as a separate event. What happened at Talladega happened at Talladega. What happened here, happened here."

Michael Kranefuss, the team's principal owner, lamented the fact that no decision had been made before the California race, but had no other comment Sunday.

The victory by Mayfield, who averaged 149.377 mph in his second career win, made it 10 different winners in as many Winston Cup races this season.

Mayfield had a problem early in the race when the oil cooler in his Taurus, located right behind his seat, began leaking into the cockpit, making an already hot day even hotter. At one point late in the race, a crewmen handed the driver two bags of ice during a pit stop to slip behind his back.

Following the celebration in victory circle, Mayfield was taken to the infield medical center for examination and treatment for dehydration. But he appeared healthy and cool when he arrived for the winner's interview about 30 minutes later.

"It was just heat all day," he said. "I've got an IV (intravenous needle) in my arm to get fluids back in me and I feel better. I've been burned in a lot of these cars."

The winner, whose only previous victory came in Pocono on June 12, 1998, started 24th in the 43-car field and got off to a good start. But, with the oil tank problem sending the engine temperature up to 340 degrees, Mayfield was forced to make two quick pit stops and found himself a lap down in 37th on the restart after the first of six caution flags in the race.

He quickly moved into contention, slicing through traffic and passing leader Mike Skinner to get back on the lead lap.

Still, it didn't appear Mayfield would be a factor up front until Jimmy Spencer spun and hit the wall on lap 219 of the 250-lap event.

Kenseth, who dominated the race, leading four times for 119 laps, was in front of second-place Labonte by more than three seconds when Spencer brought out the caution.

All the leaders pitted and several, including Mayfield, changed only two tires while Kenseth and Labonte both took the time to change all four.

Mayfield, who also took no gas, came out behind Mark Martin, who didn't pit. But Mayfield grabbed the lead on the restart on lap 225 and stayed there the rest of the way.

Labonte regained second on lap 234, but trailed the leader by just over two seconds. The series points leader - replacing Martin, who finished 14th - steadily cut into the lead and trailed by 1.016 seconds when Dick Trickle hit the wall on lap 243.

The ensuing restart on lap 247 was when Mayfield's ignition died.

"On that restart, (Mayfield) kind of scared me," Labonte said. "I was going to try to get by him on the outside and he let off the gas and I thought he might be trying to block me and I hesitated a little. It messed up my momentum and my plans."

Kenseth, who fell to seventh after the final pit stops, wound up third. He was followed by Ricky Rudd, Jeff Burton, Ward Burton and pole-winner Skinner.

Jeff Gordon was never in contention and wound up 11th Sunday.

NAPA Auto Parts 500 Race Results

Related Topics:

NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2000

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