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Is a Rocky Balboa fixin' to happen this season in NASCAR? Jeremy Mayfield says he'll do his best to make something happen


Jeremy Mayfield: Underdog, yes, but this dog will bite (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)


   By Mike Mulhern

   Yes, those were real tears in Jeremy Mayfield's eyes.
   It's been a long time since he was on top of the stock car world – Remember his bump-and-run on the late Dale Earnhardt to win at Pocono? Remember his dramatic Richmond charge in the playoffs?
   Well, those are distant memories now.
   But this year he's got dreams again of greatness, of making a comeback in this sport, of remaking his name.
   It won't be easy, of course. He's got a rag-tag operation, little budget, probably more used parts than he'd care to acknowledge.
   And Rocky Balboas just don't win much in this sport any more. Or even place or show. Or even make the top-15 or top-20.
   But today, on the eve of the Daytona 500, Mayfield's eyes are filled with stars.
   "It's a very unbelievable feeling….I mean, to do this, you know…." Mayfield was saying after driving his way into Sunday's Daytona 500.
   "We set out to do this thing just 23 days ago.  And every day gets a day later. 
    "To know where we were at then -- how much hard work has been done in such a short amount of time -- this is just unbelievable."
   Most of Mayfield's crew are volunteers, and he doesn't even know all the names yet. That's Tony Furr's job.
   Furr, once one of the best-known crew chiefs on the tour, hasn't been around much lately. So this deal is a comeback for him too.
   "Nobody realizes how hard this stuff is…What we accomplished is more than you could ever imagine," Mayfield says.
   Mayfield's stuff, like Tommy Baldwin's, is mostly from the Bill Davis shop. Davis had to pack it up at the end of 2008, without sponsorship. And the guys he left behind in High Point, N.C., are carrying on now with Baldwin and Mayfield….and a lot of praying and hoping and wishing.

Who are these guys? Jeremy Mayfield says his team has come together so fast, he's still learning names (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)



"Our motto is 'Keep it small,'" Mayfield says. "Old-school.
   "And I guess you could call it 'old psychological' too.
   After getting bounced out of his ride at Ray Evernham's, and the emotional drain of that, in a sport like this where confidence means so much, well, this new venture is as much testament to the backbone Mayfield himself has always shown as anything.  
   Can he really make it as an owner-driver?
   One race won't tell the tale of course. Nor two or three.
   Can he make it till May, or June?
   Can he make it through the summer?
   Can he make it through the fall?
   At the moment he just wants to make it through the Daytona 500.
   And if it counts for anything, he's got one big player in his corner, on his side, and on Scott Riggs' side and Tommy Baldwin's side – Brian France, who would dearly love to see 2009 turn into an Alan Kulwicki season.
   "That's what motivates me….that if I ever want to retire as a driver, I want to retire on my own, not be pushed to the wayside," Mayfield says with his typical spunk. "That's what has kept me motivated to do this: I wanted to come back. 
    "I love NASCAR racing more than anything. 
    "It's what I know. 
     "It's what I've always done.
     "It's made me tough over the last couple years.
    "I remembered that here – You've got to dig deep."
   And not just Mayfield, of course, but the men on his crew, the men on Baldwin's crew, the men – and 1,000 or so were dumped to the side of the road at the end of 2009 by team owners when money dried up – who are struggling to make it through until the economy turns back around.
    So in the far end of the Daytona garage, away from the high-dollar haulers and top-dog drivers, with all their high-priced engineers, there is a band of men – almost a brotherhood, if you will – teaming together to stay alive in this business.
   "That's been the biggest thing for me --  I can't believe the support we've gotten," Mayfield says in amazement.
    "It's been overwhelming: all the NASCAR officials, everybody at NASCAR, everybody in the garage, it's just been unbelievable, everybody wanting to lend a hand. 
   "Makes you feel good when you come back like that. 
   "Makes you feel welcomed back in the sport."
   And the men behind him, beside him, in other no-budget haulers around him….."They're all good guys….and that's what is sad, that there are a lot of good people, who really deserve good jobs," Mayfield says.
   ""That's something I'm very proud of -- being able to employ 10 or 15 guys that had been laid off, to help their family.
   "We've had a little saying that we weren't going to hire anybody unless you've been laid off for three months, and were hungry like we are, and ready to go. 
    "Now that's just a joke….
   "But these guys are all excited, and not one time has anybody complained about anything.
   "This all makes you appreciate what you've got, when you sit out for a little bit and realize what you had is gone."


Why Should Anyone Believe This Team Will Succeed?

"Keep it small," they say. In this environment where $20 million per car is needed to compete, how are they going to pull off anything? That they're running well now is because it's a plate race and plate racing cancels out a lot of the advantages the mega-teams have. But once they get to Fontana etc., what then? They won't have enough wind tunnel time, they won't have enough engineering help - there is nothing here to believe they can sustain this run.

well, now it's up to nascar

well, now it's up to nascar to help these guys out, don't you think? i think padlocking all the windtunnels and banning those seven post computer rigs might be a start. make some surprise visits, and anyone caught has to sit out a race. Nascar can be as tough as it wants to.

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