Of the same mind
Waltrip, Mayfield poised to battle struggles together
Posted: Thursday October 11, 2007 12:36PM; Updated: Thursday October 11, 2007 12:36PM
Two years ago, Jeremy Mayfield's NASCAR career was cruising along in high gear. He was in the Chase for the second straight year, eventually finishing ninth.
Mayfield had a victory, his fifth in Cup, at Michigan, four top-fives and nine top-10s in 2005, including a 10th in the season finale at Homestead-Miami.
Those heady days seem along time ago now. In 34 races since the end of the '05 season, Mayfield hasn't had a top-10.
Ray Evernham released him after 22 races in '06. This year hasn't been much better as Mayfield has made 12 races going into this weekend's Cup event at Lowe's Motor Speedway with Bill Davis Racing, which will replace him with Jacques Villeneuve next season.
Mayfield's career may have imploded, but he's expected to get a chance to rebuild with Michael Waltrip Racing next season. Sources say Mayfield has agreed to a deal to share the No. 44 with Dale Jarrett, who will drive a limited schedule in '08. Jarrett will announce his plans for next year at Lowe's on Friday.
It's been speculated that Jarrett, who has those six champion's provisionals to guarantee positions on the grid, would start the season and try to get the No. 44 into the top-35 in the points and then retire. According to sources, if Jarrett can save some of the provisionals by qualifying on time, he would agree to return to use them to get into races if the No. 44 fell out of the top 35.
Waltrip offered Mayfield the No. 00 last July, but Mayfield turned him down to sign with Davis. Neither situation offered Mayfield's enough owner points to guarantee starting positions while also saddling him on start-up Toyota teams. But the move to Waltrip should offer Mayfield an ear to bend, as Waltrip also has had to qualify on time and has made only 11 races in his Toyota.
Mayfield's problems at Evernham began when Kenny Francis, his team director in '05, was moved to Kasey Kahne's No. 9 in '06. Mayfield never got going with his new group and wasn't happy that Evernham didn't make moves to try to rectify it, which led to an acrimonious parting.
Considering how the team, now Gillett Evernham, has performed this season, it's seems clear the team had even bigger problems than Mayfield despite the fact Kahne won six races and made the Chase last year. None of GEM's three drivers came close to making the Chase this season.
Evernham's problems and the situation at Davis probably helped Waltrip make the case to sponsor UPS that Mayfield was a quality replacement and, at age 38, still has plenty of good racing left in him.
Mayfield's impending move isn't the only one on the NASCAR slate.
Before agreeing to join Waltrip, Mayfield had been rumored to be talking to Haas CNC Racing, which signed Scott Riggs last week after Jeff Green decided not to return to the No. 66 -- which is 29th in owner points -- and signed with another team, according to a source. The team also says it's evaluating Johnny Sauter, who started the season outside the top-35 in owner points and has driven it to 31st in driver and 32nd in owner points while making 29 of 30 races.
Haas has a close relationship with Hendrick Motorsports, which supplies the team engines. Haas also has demonstrated a commitment to improving its technical capabilities, as evidenced with a seven-post shaker rig -- a multi-million dollar machine that allows testing of shocks, suspensions and other mechanical components -- and access to the most advanced wind tunnel in North America. Team owner Gene Haas owns the wind tunnel, which will be available early next year.
Why would Green leave a team on the rise with owner points he worked for? It would have to be a team he thought had greater potential and could overcome not having owner points at the start of next season with performance. The two organizations that fit that profile are Joe Gibbs Racing and Richard Childress Racing, which both want to get to four cars. Gibbs, of course, is switching to Toyota next year and the manufacturer is likely willing to supply the funding for an additional entry. Childress has been trying to find a sponsor for its fourth car.
As for Sauter, it's believed the team has been talking to David Stremme, whose option wasn't exercised by Chip Ganassi, as a potential replacement. He's 25th in the driver points. At age 30, he could be attractive to Haas to replace Sauter and it's believed they're talking.
Team Red Bull buying Yates' shop?
Team Red Bull has approached Robert Yates Racing about purchasing its racing and chassis manufacturing shops in Mooresville, N.C. The offer comes in the heels of Yates' announcement that it wants to move to Concord, N.C., to a shop currently occupied by Boris Said's No Fear team (next to Roush Fenway) to expedite their sharing of technology in 2008. Yates will use Roush-built chassis next season.
Red Bull is in dire need of more space. It gets engines from Toyota Racing Development and buys chassis, but wants to start departments in both areas. Buying Yates' facilities would give them the room to do that.
Red Bull is also sponsoring ex-Formula 1 driver Scott Speed in ARCA next season with Eddie Sharp Racing and would like to run him in some Craftsman Truck or Busch races. The team needs extra space to do that, too.
DEI Vice President Richie Gilmore, who heads DEI's engine department, has been in serious negotiations with Red Bull to become the team's general manager. But Gilmore was hospitalized briefly with a mild aneurysm last weekend in Alabama, and it's unclear how his medical condition might impact their discussions.
Phoenix next for Villeneuve?
Villeneuve, who made his Nextel Cup debut at Talladega last weekend, tested at .455-mile Caraway Speedway in Ashboro, N.C., Wednesday in a Car of Tomorrow with Bill Davis Racing. Villeneuve, who will run the remainder of the Craftsman Truck schedule, is expected to enter the Nov. 9-11 Cup event at Phoenix.