CONCORD, N.C. -- Not since last year's Winston 500 has stock car racing seen so many unbelievable moves in such a short period of time.
When Dale Earnhardt rallied from 18th place to Victory Lane in the last five laps, it was hard to keep up with all the times he went left, right or between two speeding cars. The maneuvering for future employment on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series has been just as furious this week, with a dozen drivers jockeying for the best available ride in 2002.
It all started Monday, when Morgan/McClure Motorsports fired Kevin Lepage.
By the time Larry McClure gave Lepage his walking papers and announced Mike Skinner was his new driver for 2002, Roger Penske had fired Jeremy Mayfield.
The fact that Mayfield is gone from that team is no surprise Mayfield said last month he wasn't happy but the timing caught everyone by surprise. Penske, who refused to comment on his decision, did it without knowing who would drive the Mobil One Ford on Sunday at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Actually, a decision on Mayfield's replacement probably won't be made until minutes before today's pole qualifying session for the UAW/GM 500.
Last week's race at Kansas Speedway apparently was the last straw for both sides. May field ran poorly all weekend, starting 38th and finishing 36th. With Penske showing more in terest in young Ryan Newman, who finished second to Jeff Gordon, Mayfield vent ed his frustration after the race.
''First of all, you can't bring a '98 model car that we brought here,'' he said. ''This is a short-track car that has no business being here at Kansas. You can't come here and run with these guys like that. You've got to have the right stuff. Unfortunately, I guess we didn't have a car ready so we had to bring this one.''
Officially, Penske's No. 12 car is one of three that have a vacancy for next season. Others in clude Travis Carter's No. 26 and Richard Childress' No. 31.
''It is kind of late for all these shakeups,'' said car owner Andy Petree. ''But I'm not surprised, because I was expecting it sooner or later.''
Also, Eel River Racing closed its doors this week, putting Rick Mast in the unemployment line.
The struggling economy will have an effect on the hiring process.
Kodiak is leaving Melling Racing, McDonald's has baled out of Cal Wells' team, Nation's Rent is backing away from Jim Smith's Ultra Motorsports, and Oakwood Homes will leave Pe tree's team.
If car owners aren't able to find new deals and the pickings are apparently slim, especially when the going rate starts at
$8 million year some of those teams might close down.
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