In the Hot Seat
Jeremy Mayfield won despite an oil tank that nearly baked him
If there was one thing apparent at California Speedway last
weekend, it was that the NASCAR racing gods are fickle. They're
by turns vengeful and merciful. They punish, they absolve. They
give, they take away.
Last Saturday, Ward Burton had a mortal lock on the Busch Series
Grand National race when suddenly his car spun into the wall
with seven laps left. His kid brother, Jeff, who was running
second, had to check up to keep from wrecking, allowing Matt
Kenseth to slip beneath him and into the lead. He held on for
The next day, in the Napa Auto Parts 500, Kenseth, a 27-year-old
Winston Cup rookie, went in front with 46 laps to go and began
adding nearly .10 of a second to his lead every time around the
two-mile tri-oval. In clean air and on long runs, Kenseth's Ford
was untouchable, but on short runs and in traffic it was
handling tight. So what happened? With 32 laps remaining, Jimmy
Spencer spun and hit the wall, bringing out a caution flag. "It
just broke," said Spencer of his deus ex machine.
In a perfect world the elder Burton would have benefited from
the wreck and won the race, but the face that fortune smiled
upon on the restart was that of Jeremy Mayfield, who had been
attracting attention for dubious reasons all week. After
Mayfield's 14th-place finish at Talladega on April 16, NASCAR
launched an investigation of his fuel. The hot rumor as of
Monday was that an additive had been found in his tank and that
a fine or suspension was imminent. "These two weeks have been
pretty weird for us," said Mayfield after the race.
He drove not only with possible sanctions looming, but also with
his Ford's oil temperature, which is usually about 220[degrees],
soaring to around 340[degrees]. Mayfield took the lead during
the pit stop that followed Spencer's crash. Most of the drivers
near the front took on four tires, but Mayfield went with two
and beat the others back to the track.
The tires, however, weren't the most important thing Mayfield
got during the pit stop. His back was being baked by his
overheated oil tank, which is located directly behind the
driver's seat. Mayfield told his crew to give him a couple of
bags of ice cubes, which he dropped between his back and the
seat, and hand him a cold drink. That was all he needed to hold
off Bobby Labonte and Kenseth--who finished second and third,
respectively--for his second career win.
In Victory Lane Mayfield's glee was tempered a bit from having
been in the hot seat--literally--for 3 1/2 hours. "I think I
burned my back," he said. "I'm blistered up, I'm sure."
There's a word for that, Jerry: penance.
Tony Stewart's Busy Vacation
No Rest for the Committed
Tony Stewart apparently doesn't know the meaning of taking it
easy. This is the guy who drove in the Indy 500 and the
Coca-Cola 600 on the same day last year. This is the guy who ran
seventh in a low-profile super late model race in Irwindale,
Calif., last Saturday night, less than 24 hours before he would
finish 10th in NASCAR's NAPA Auto Parts 500 in Fontana, 35 miles
away. This is the guy who spent the first off week of the
Winston Cup season, April 17 to 23, working at Las Vegas Motor
Speedway as a crew chief for the IRL team he co-owns. "I'm a
racer, and racers go race," he says. "I don't know how else to
Stewart and three partners own the Tri-Star Motorsports IRL
team. Their primary driver is Jeret Schroeder, but for the Vegas
race the team decided to enter a second car, with Jack (the
Driving Dentist) Miller at the wheel. With nothing better to do,
Stewart donned the headsets and served as Miller's crew chief.
The race ended early for the Miller-Stewart combo when the car
went out with an electrical problem after 54 of the 312 laps.
Nevertheless, Stewart learned plenty about the other end of the
driver-crew chief relationship. "It's frustrating because I
can't be in the car and know exactly what it's doing," says
Stewart. "I have to rely on his information. I've always
respected what Greg [Zipadelli, his Winston Cup crew chief] has
done, but you gain more of an appreciation when you have to be
in his shoes."
A Wild Day at The Rio 200
Adrian Fernandez won CART's Rio 200 on Sunday after rookie Alex
Tagliani, who was leading comfortably, spun out with nine laps
to go. The race wasn't without incident as Michael Andretti, who
ran into one of his crewmen in the pits last June in Milwaukee,
hit another of his guys during the Sunday race. This crewman
fractured his right leg and ankle, but instead of being
disqualified, Andretti was assessed only a stop-and-go penalty.
He came in ninth, a lap down.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK With the winner averaging 149.378 mph, the NAPA Auto Parts 500 was a blur.
Races this season--of the three that have been run--that
defending CART series champion Juan Montoya has failed to
finish. He dropped out of the Rio 200 in Brazil on Sunday with
engine problems on Lap 30.