June 4, 2005 9:56 pm EDT

No longer forgotten
By Bob Margolis, Yahoo Sports

Mayfield enjoys Dover. (AP)
DOVER, Del. – This season, the most common headline for Dodge has been "Newman takes pole."

Last month, the manufacturer heralded a long-awaited "Kasey Kahne wins first."

With Newman and Kahne making splashes while Rusty Wallace continues his much-publicized retirement tour, Dodge driver Jeremy Mayfield sometimes feels like he's been forgotten.

Not so this weekend at Dover.

Mayfield stole the spotlight Saturday, first by announcing that he has signed a multi-year extension with team owner Ray Evernham to remain a Dodge driver for several years to come (specific terms of the contract weren't released).

Then Mayfield climbed into his Charger and was the quickest driver in both of Saturday's practice sessions for Sunday's MBNA RacePoints 400 Cup race.

A very pleased Mayfield couldn't explain why he was so fast.

"We've just run well here," said Mayfield, who won the pole for both Dover Cup races last year. "We've had great cars, and this track seems to fit our style."

Mayfield has three consecutive top-eight finishes at the track. "It's one of those places you go to and you've got confidence coming into it," he said. "You run good and you just like the place."

Despite perhaps having one of the best cars in the field, Mayfield will start just 13th on Sunday after Friday qualifying was rained out and the field was set by owner points.

"We're still starting 13th. It's not like we're not like in the back somewhere," he said. "We certainly would have liked to have a shot at the pole."

With his speeds Saturday and his recent success at this very fast, high-banked, all-concrete track, Sunday's race could provide Mayfield a strong boost for the rest of the season.

Thus far, the 2005 campaign has been a mixed bag for the Owensboro, Ky., native. His qualifying efforts include six top-10 starts, highlighted by a front-row start at Texas in April. But his finishes haven't been comparable. Despite sitting a decent 13th in points, Mayfield has logged just two top-10s this season, including last weekend's fourth-place run at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Much of Mayfield's early-season woes can be attributed to the new Dodge Charger, as Evernham and the rest of the Dodge contingent struggled early to find the proper balance in the car.

But after countless hours of track testing and wind-tunnel work, Evernham feels they've found the right combination.

"The guys tested back-to-back one of last year's cars against one of our new cars and they found some things to make [the Charger] a little bit better," Evernham said.

With an entirely new car to deal with, it's not surprising that the Dodge teams got off to a slow start.

"We've really have to throw everything away from last year and start fresh," Evernham said. "None of the stuff we did last year was working. It's been a building process to find that information, but it seems now we have a combination that this Charger seems to like."

Mayfield's teammate Kasey Kahne gave the new Charger its first victory in Cup competition just last month at Richmond. A smiling and confident Mayfield thinks he's got the car to give Dodge its second one on Sunday.

But that confidence and expectation for success hasn't always been with Mayfield since he's been in the Evernham fold.

Mayfield came to the team in 2002 after previously driving Roger Penske's No. 12 car. At the time, it was considered by many to be a step down for Mayfield, who was rumored to have burned bridges at Penske.

Mayfield struggled that first year, scoring only two top-fives while collecting seven DNFs. While he did improve in 2003, it was a win at Richmond last September that changed everything.

Mayfield says he and Evernham have become good friends since that victory, which earned Mayfield a spot in the inaugural Chase for the Nextel Cup.

"I make him mad every once in awhile, and he makes me mad, but we still continue on with our relationship," Mayfield said.

"Ray's been very good to me, helping me mature more as a driver. I told him awhile back I'd hate to be on the outside looking in racing against this team."

That's because, as Mayfield sees it, Evernham's team is only going to get better.

"I know where it's going," Mayfield said. "I know what we've got going on and all the good things that are happening for Evernham Motorsports in the future, and I'm certainly glad to be part of that."

NOTES

  • Both Chevrolet and Ford have been busy working on their new models for Cup and Busch competition starting next season. Chevrolet will debut the newly-redesigned Monte Carlo at Daytona in February 2006, while Ford will switch from the Taurus (which is no longer being built) to the Ford 500 next year.

  • Dale Jarrett had words for Reed Sorenson after the rookie finished second in Saturday's Busch race won by Martin Truex Jr. Jarrett told him. "Good run. You drove a good race."

    Maybe Jarrett does like the young guys after all.

  • Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb paid a visit to the Nextel Cup garage Saturday, meeting several drivers including Jeff Gordon. McNabb was touting his involvement with a group called the Urban Racing League.

  • After last weekend's debacle in Charlotte, a major topic in the Cup garage is the number of cautions this season (137) and what can be done about it. The consensus is that nothing will change as long as drivers are under pressure to win.

  • Casey Mears and his No. 41 Dodge will start at the rear of the field Sunday after his team changed engines. Team manager Andy Graves said, "You're taking a chance starting in the back, but we'd rather do that than possibly not being able to finish the race [with a bad engine]."

  • Cup rookie Kyle Busch, who is attempting the "triple" this weekend – competing in the Craftsman Trucks, Busch and Cup races – crashed in Saturday's Busch race while trying to pass leader Kevin Harvick. But Busch won the truck race – his second in a row. He starts 22nd on Sunday.

Veteran motorsports writer Bob Margolis is Yahoo! Sports' NASCAR reporter. Send Bob a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.

Updated on Saturday, Jun 4, 2005 9:56 pm, EDT

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