Mayfields Win Wasnt Cool

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FONTANA, Calif. - Jeremy Mayfield, who will start third in Sunday’s NAPA Auto Parts 500 at California Speedway, is a man on a mission this weekend.

Not only does Mayfield want to repeat his Winston Cup victory last year at California, but he also wants badly to snap a 29-race winless streak that dates back to last June, and to break out of the midst of a three-race slump that hasn’t seen him finish better than 22nd.

“California has always had a good race for me and this team,” said Mayfield. “We’re pretty excited about getting back here and giving the front another shot. You pretty much do well at tracks you like, and California is one of the tracks I really like. I don’t think I’m in the minority there, but I really like the place. It’s a good, ‘racey’ track and it’s fun to drive. That means a lot.”

His fast run in qualifying Friday was a sign that he not only likes the track, but that he knows what it takes to be up front in Fontana.

“I felt like we were going to come here and be able to do well,” Mayfield explained. “We’re happy to qualify third, heck, that’s like a win to us. I’m always real confident and comfortable when we come to California. I feel like we’re going to be pretty good when it comes time to race. We came here with a lot of confidence because we know we do run well here. This is a pretty good feeling.”

Considering a myriad of obstacles he had to overcome last year to win at the Fontana track, putting your money on Mayfield may be a wise choice this weekend, even though he’s had less that desirable results through the first quarter of the 2001 season and heads into Sunday’s race sitting 28th in the Winston Cup points standings.

The first of the problems for Mayfield last year came early in the race when he radioed into crew chief Peter Sospenzo that the oil temperature gauge was pegged and the motor was overheating only 40 laps into the event.

“The temperature gauges started moving higher and higher, and it was getting warm in the seat,” Mayfield said of what ended up being a broken line to the oil cooler, which sits just behind the driver’s seat of a Winston Cup car. “I knew we were having some kind of problem. It was just a question of how big a problem it was. We finally pitted to try to fix things and the gauges were pegged. We lost a lap as the guys went under the hood and couldn’t find anything. They made a few changes trying to solve the problem, but the oil was getting hot and we knew it.

“We got back out, a lap down, and took off. The gauges were still reading really hot. A caution came out a few laps later and we were able to come back in and check some more. The guys did everything they could to get air to the engine. We knew there was a problem with the oil lines, and we thought it had to do with the cooler. We would find out for sure later we were right.”

Unfortunately for Mayfield, he was literally in the “hot seat” from that point on, trying to recover from the earlier problems while the temperature inside his car kept getting warmer and warmer. But Mayfield was able to make his lost lap back up to get in contention.

“It started getting a little hot,” Mayfield said. “The oil cooler kept getting hotter and hotter. I could feel it behind me. The guys threw ice all over me every time we came into the pits, trying to keep me cooled down. The gauges stayed pegged. As long as it was OK, the engine would have been OK. And as long as the engine was OK, we had a shot at winning the race.

“I kept telling Peter (Sospenzo) what was going on in the car, and he was getting worried. He asked me several times if I needed a relief driver. The seat was burning, but those guys weren’t giving up in the pits, so I wasn’t giving up in the car.

“Toward the end, I got around Mark Martin on a restart and took the lead for good. We were able to pull away. The car and seat were still really hot – it’s funny how these things go – but I didn’t feel it half as much when I was out front.

“By then, things were starting to look pretty good. I was able to pull away some. We had come from a long week, a long trip to California, a hot oil tank and a lap down, and we looked like we were going to win the race. Then another caution came out.”

As did one more potential problem that could’ve very well ended the chances at the victory.

“On the last restart, Bobby Labonte was right on my rear. Just as we started across the start-finish line, the engine coughed,” Mayfield said. “I thought, ‘Oh, man. We came all this way and now it’s over.’ But I switched ignition boxes and the thing caught up again, and we took off. We were able to pull away from Bobby some and we won the race.

“It was a great feeling. I was running on pure adrenalin when I got to victory lane. Everybody was excited like crazy. I jumped up on the roof of the car and high-fived every hand I could see. If you’re looking at a team overcoming just about every obstacle you could throw at them, then that would be this team last year at California.

“From the problems with the oil cooler lines to a problem on a restart right at the end of the race, we were facing a lot of stuff. But everybody kept pulling together, nobody gave up and we won the race. I can’t think of a sweeter ending to a week.”

Maybe a repeat performance would be a bit sweeter.

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