Mayfield’s fuel strategy pays off

Posted: Monday, August 22, 2005

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Jeremy Mayfield was happy to leave his winning car behind and walk to Victory Circle on Sunday.

The winner of the chaotic NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Michigan International Speedway blew two tires as he celebrated his first victory in nearly a year with a burnout in front of the frontstretch grandstand.

No matter. Mayfield was still grinning widely when he stepped out of his crippled No. 19 Evernham Motorsports Dodge.

‘‘Every win I’ve ever won in this series is like that, full of drama,’’ Mayfield said. ‘‘Right up to the wire you never know.’’

He came out on top of the chaotic GFS Marketplace 400 by running the last 52 laps on a single tank of fuel, but still had enough gas to do a slow victory lap and the crowd-pleasing burnout.

‘‘I blew out the rear tires on that burnout and that was pretty cool,’’ Mayfield said. ‘‘I still had enough fuel to do it.’’

Mayfield, whose most recent win came last September in Richmond, was never close to the lead earlier in the race. But one by one, the leaders were forced to pit for fuel — and Mayfield inherited the top spot with six laps to go in the 200-lap event.

The decision to pass up a late pit stop and go for the win was made by Mayfield’s crew chief, Slugger Labbe.

‘‘Man, we had a 20th-place car and we robbed the bank,’’ the gleeful Labbe said.

There were seven caution flags in the race, but none in the final 51 laps.

‘‘If there had been a caution with 10 laps to go, we’d have been doomed,’’ Labbe said. ‘‘But history says from lap 150 on this track stays green, and we took a chance on history.’’

Mayfield said he was doing everything he could think of to save fuel at the end, but was confident he could make it.

‘‘When those guys made that choice, I knew they were pretty confident I could make it and I was pretty confident in their decision,’’ he said.

‘‘About the last three laps, the motor was sputtering. I was thinking on that last lap, ‘It’s close, it’s close, it’s close,’ but we got there.’’

It was Mayfield’s fifth career victory and moved him from seventh to sixth in the season points, solidifying his hold on a spot in the upcoming Chase for the Championship.

Many of the teams in the 43-car field had problems with cut tires or engines that overheated when windblown garbage collected on grills, cutting off air to radiators. Mayfield’s Dodge was no exception.

‘‘It was just a cool, windy day,’’ Labbe said. ‘‘You could see the debris coming through the fence. Nothing much you can do.

‘‘Our motor was running 270 (degrees) today. The engine room gets freaked out about 220. It was cooked, but we made it,’’ he added.

Scott Riggs, fighting to keep his ride, also stretched his gas to the end and finished a career-high second, followed by Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, who had been battling for the lead prior to the late pit stops.

Kenseth, who made his final stop on lap 181, charged hard to get back into contention but came up well short of Mayfield and Riggs, who finished about five car-lengths apart.

Raikkonen wins inaugural Turkish Grand Prix

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Kimi Raikkonen is catching up to Formula One points leader Fernando Alonso, yet running out of time.

Raikkonen, driving for McLaren, won the inaugural Turkish Grand Prix on Sunday for his fifth victory of the season. Alonso finished second in his Renault on Formula One’s newest course and McLaren’s Juan Pablo Montoya was third.

Wheldon wins Honda 225, increases series lead

FOUNTAIN, Colo. — Dan Wheldon took his second lead with 60 laps left and wasn’t challenged again, running away with the Honda Indy 225 on Sunday for his record-tying fifth win of the season.

Wheldon started 11th and gradually worked his way to the front on the mile tri-oval at Pikes Peak International Raceway, taking the lead when he whipped past defending champion Dario Franchitti on lap 153. Franchitti took the lead back on lap 159 when Wheldon went to the pits, but the Englishman came charging back and had the lead six laps later.

Wheldon led by as much as 14 seconds after that and cruised to his first win since the Indianapolis 500 on May 29, beating Sam Hornish Jr. by 12.4763 seconds and averaging 153.79 mph) for his eighth career victory.

Wheldon also won at Miami, St. Petersburg and Motegi, matching Hornish’s record for wins in a season, set in 2002. He celebrated with a series of doughnuts that shredded his back right tire, some well-deserved fun after five top-fives but no wins over the past seven races.

The win, which clinched Honda’s second straight manufacturer’s title, increases Wheldon’s lead over Hornish to 97 points with four of the series’ 17 races left.

Tony Kanaan finished third.

Rookie Danica Patrick started fifth, but clearly didn’t have a car to compete with the leaders early. She dropped to seventh shortly after taking the green flag and was off the lead lap less than halfway through.

But Patrick’s car finally started to come around late in the race and she made a charge, finishing eighth.

Hornish seemed to have the best car early, building a nine-second lead headed into the first pit stop. But the car started to go after that and Hornish had to fight his way back to the front for his fifth top-two finish this season.

Franchitti had the roughest finish. He led three times and was running second when he stalled coming out of his second pit stop on lap 164. The team tried to push start the car without any success, then finally got it going after pushing it back to the stall and starting it electronically.

By then, Franchitti’s wife, singer Ashley Judd, was shaking her head in the pits and he had dropped to ninth. He finished seventh.

Polesitter Helio Castoneves led the first 19 laps, but had a hard time keeping up with the leaders after getting passed by teammate Hornish. He finished fourth.

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