Ned Yost, the third base coach for the Atlanta Braves and longtime friend of NASCAR Winston Cup Series driver Dale Earnhardt, was like most racing fans after Jeremy Mayfield's victory Monday at the Pocono (Pa.) Raceway.
Yost couldn't believe Mayfield had the guts to put a bumper on the most intimidating figure in motorsports. Mayfield's bump-and-run maneuver in the final turn sent Earnhardt sliding toward the wall and Mayfield headed from second place to a wildly popular victory.
There was some poetic justice in Earnhardt losing a victory with the very move that made him famous. Other drivers gave Mayfield a thumbs-up as he drove down pit road. The grandstands roared.
He was the geek who punched the bully in the nose, the guy who bet it all on a single roll of the dice and won.
''You can do it once and get away with it,'' Yost said. ''But I'd sure hate to make a living out of playing with Earnhardt like that. I didn't like the way Dale lost the race, but you really can't say much about it.''
Earnhardt has wrinkled more fenders and caused more chaos than any other driver since the modern era started 29 years ago. Other than extending his middle finger at Mayfield on the cool-down lap to ''tell him he was No. 1,'' the man known as the ''Intimidator'' accepted the payback with the same attitude as when he's dished it out in the past.
''I got beat,'' Earnhardt said with a hint of sarcasm. ''I got in the corner and got shoved a little bit and got beat and ended up fourth. You don't ever have a win until the checkered flag falls.''
Last August, Earnhardt sent leader Terry Labonte into the wall on the final lap at Bristol, Tenn., with a bump-and-run move that earned Earnhardt another controversial victory. After that race, he offered no apologies.
''If it would have been on the other foot and I had been the one turned around, I probably would think about it pretty hard and know he was going to race me hard for the win,'' Earnhardt said as the smoke and sparks settled at Bristol 10 months ago. ''I've always took my medicine, took what happened and just sucked it up and gone to the next race.
''I didn't mean to wreck him. I just wanted to rattle his cage.''
Mayfield used those exact words from Victory Lane Monday. And after Mayfield won with the same kind of pass, he didn't apologize, either. In fact, Mayfield went on the attack.
''If I was leading the race, he would have done that to me, too,'' Mayfield said. ''I'm just as hard-nosed as he is. You've got to do what you've got to do to win. It was just hard-nose racing to me."
Race fans and drivers starved for the kind of storylines that are part of the sport's storied lore are rallying around Mayfield.
He was a guest Tuesday during an Internet chat on NASCAR Online, and the response was staggering. A normal chat session draws 6,500 fans, according to NASCAR, but Mayfield's appearance Tuesday drew more than 61,000 hits.
''Man, I've blown up two answering machines and working on a third,'' Mayfield said. ''A lot of them came from friends and from family, but I got a ton of messages from people I don't even know. They were just excited. I can't blame them. I was pretty excited myself.''
Mayfield should enjoy the victory, and all the fame associated with it, while it lasts. But he needs to remember one important fact: Retri-bution is only a race away.
Reach Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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