BROOKLYN, Mich. – Jeremy Mayfield has hit rock bottom in his NASCAR career.
He acknowledges that, and the facts back it up.
Mayfield has started just nine of 23 races and is 46th in the Nextel Cup points standings – just two years after his fifth victory put him in the Chase for the championship for a second straight year – in what is by far his worst season since his debut in 1993.
He is hoping, though, to sign a deal that would put him on his third team in three seasons for 2008.
Mayfield regrets the position he’s in and, perhaps uncharacteristically, he is blaming himself.
“Looking back now, I would’ve done things differently when I was young and dumb and racing for Roger Penske,” the 38-year-old said. “Roger tried to get me to look at the big picture, but I guess I had to hit rock bottom to understand.
“I thought the grass was greener elsewhere. Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have left because that’s when my struggles started.”
After taking one too many shots at Penske Racing as he tried to get out of his contract, Penske fired him in 2001.
Mayfield landed with Evernham Motorsports, but his mouth got him in trouble again last season and led to an ugly split that included a lawsuit attempting to block his firing.
He was relegated to accepting an offer from Bill Davis Racing this year, but midway through the season both sides agreed it was a lose-lose relationship and announced plans to part ways for 2008.
After acrimonious exits from powerful teams and a peaceful one with a lesser one, Mayfield agreed he might have to settle for competing in the Busch and Craftsman Truck circuits because a top-level Cup ride might be out of reach.
“I’d rather win races in another series than just be out here with any team,” he said.
“My first option is to stay at this level with a competitive team, but I’ll do whatever it takes to get another shot with a good organization.”
Rusty Wallace said his former Penske teammate seems to have the right mind-set.
“Pride doesn’t pay bills,” said Wallace, who now works as an ESPN analyst.
“It’s demoralizing to go to a lesser series, but there are people that would die to drive in the Busch or truck series.”
Mayfield, though, isn’t giving up his hopes for Plan A.
“I’ve talked to several good race teams and a lot depends on how everything falls, but I feel like I’m right in the mix,” he said.
“Kyle Busch going to Joe Gibbs opened up some opportunities. Even though it doesn’t seem like there are many jobs out there, anything can happen and I think there will be some surprises.”
It wouldn’t stun Wallace if another Cup team takes a chance on Mayfield.
“Jeremy has proven he can win. That’s why Roger Penske and Ray Evernham hired him in the first place,” Wallace said.
“The thing Jeremy is struggling with is that, like me, he likes to drive from the seat of his pants. But that doesn’t really work anymore because of the technical approach teams use.
“We used to say, ‘Change the right-front spring and shock, and let’s do it.’ Now, engineers want those decisions to flow through them.”
Listening to Mayfield, it appears that giving up control and trusting teammates is an issue he is certainly wrestling with during his slide from possible stardom.
“If a driver doesn’t get the right equipment ... he’s not going to run good,” Mayfield said.
“The good teams like Hendrick, Gibbs, Childress, DEI all have a foundation and they don’t switch drivers and crew chiefs all the time.
“If you look at the trucks parked midway down the row to the back, there’s a lot of turnover or turmoil back here.”