A taste of his own medicine

Mayfield taps Earnhardt on last lap to take Pocono 500

Posted: Tuesday, June 20, 2000

LONG POND, Pa. -- This time, The Intimidator was pushed aside on the final lap.

And racing fans who have seen Dale Earnhardt do that so often to others, stood and cheered Jeremy Mayfield after he won the Pocono 500.

''I just wanted to rattle his cage a little bit,'' Mayfield said Monday after a race that had been delayed a day because of rain and fog.

Those were the words Earnhardt used after the most infamous of his last-lap taps sent a victory-bound Terry Labonte spinning out of the lead last August in Bristol, Tenn.

''I don't think he can say anything about what happened today,'' said Mayfield, who says Earnhardt has messed with him many times. ''If he comes back and gets me again, we'll come back and get him again.''

Make way for The New Intimidator.

''We all know he wouldn't have done that if he had been in the car behind,'' Dale Jarrett said facetiously. ''It would be hard for that guy to say anything.''

And Earnhardt did say little about the contact in the fourth turn at Pocono International Raceway, a tap just a quarter-mile before he would taken the checkered flag for his 76th career victory.

But he drove up alongside Mayfield on the cooldown lap, put his arm out the window and extended a finger.

''I told him he was No. 1,'' Earnhardt said of the gesture.

His car owner, Richard Childress, might not have enjoyed it as much as the crowd, but he summed it up perfectly.

''He just knocked him out of the way to win,'' Childress said. ''That's just racing. There'll be another day.''

Mayfield said he saw a few thumbs-up signs from crew members of other teams as he rode by on the way to Victory Circle.

The only thumbs-down expression came from a fan behind the pit wall. He threw a can of beer at Mayfield's Ford, but missed.

''A lot of other drivers out there weren't taking up for him,'' Mayfield said of Earnhardt. ''If you've watched enough Winston Cup racing you can see why.''

Still, it was profitable day for Earnhardt, who fell to fourth before regaining control of his Chevrolet. He picked up 41 points on series leader Bobby Labonte, and now trails by just 57 in his bid for an unprecedented eighth Winston Cup championship.

''You don't ever have a win until the checkered flag falls,'' Earnhardt said. ''All in all, it was a good day. We gained some points on Labonte.''

So did series champion Jarrett, whose second-place finish in a Ford left him third in the standings, 115 points behind the leader. Labonte, who won both races last year at Pocono, overcame an early mechanical problem to finish 13th.

''He has been five- and 10- and 15-pointing us to death,'' Jarrett said. ''Finally, we did gain a few points.''

The win was the third in the career for Mayfield, a 31-year-old driver from Owensboro, Ky., who got his breakthrough victory in this race in 1998.

The race continued a pattern of ups and downs for Mayfield, whose team has been penalized twice this season for rules violation. He lost 151 points and seven positions in the Winston Cup chase for one violation and his team was fined for another after he won in April in Fontana, Calif.

Mayfield also challenged eight days ago in Brooklyn, Mich., leading for 85 laps before blowing an engine.

On Monday, he beat Jarrett by .581 seconds. In third place was Jarrett's teammate, Ricky Rudd.

Mayfield stalked Earnhardt through the final laps, then hit and nearly spun him out as Earnhardt slowed entering the final turn.

Jarrett said Earnhardt appeared to slow in the turns, trying to break the momentum of Mayfield. The winner trailed by about three car lengths in the final laps, then closed the last time around.

Mayfield led just nine of 200 laps. He averaged 139.741 mph in a race slowed for 21 laps by five cautions.

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