Photo: ASP, Inc.

Throwback Thursday Theater: Mayfield Takes a Page from the Book of Earnhardt

By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor

Pocono Raceway has always been hit or miss when it comes to action, but back in June 2000, the late race battle between Jeremy Mayfield and Dale Earnhardt resulted in an instant classic.

After all activity was washed out on Sunday due to rain, the NASCAR Winston Cup Series returned to the “Tricky Triangle” the following day ready to do battle on the three-turn 2.5-mile track.

Rusty Wallace started on pole and had the dominant car of the day, leading 107 laps, but on a late race round of pit stops, everything changed. Wallace and his team elected for four tires and fuel, while most of the other cars decided to take the path of two tires or gas only, leaving Wallace mired back in traffic for the remainder of the race.

With Wallace out of the picture, the race win would come down to Dale Earnhardt and Jeremy Mayfield and the final restart with 13 laps to go would give the two plenty of time to size up each other before the checkered flag flew.

Earnhardt got the jump on Mayfield and looked to be in the catbird seat down the stretch, but if there’s one thing we’ve learned about Mayfield over the years, it’s to never count him out and on the final lap, he made his move.

With a big run off the Tunnel Turn and down the short straight, Mayfield closed the gap on Earnhardt as they entered Turn 3. As soon as Mayfield’s Ford reached the rear bumper of Earnhardt’s Chevrolet, he used a move familiar to Earnhardt fans and bumped the Intimidator out of the way, taking over the lead in the process.

“When you live by the sword, you die by the sword. I’ve watched Earnhardt do that in many, many races coming down to the last corner, just touching a person enough to get them out wide,” TNN commentator Buddy Baker said of the move.

From there it was smooth sailing to the finish as Mayfield scored his second win of the season and second career win at Pocono. Dale Jarrett finished second, with Ricky Rudd in third, and Earnhardt dropping all the way back to fourth.

“We’ve been bit like that several times,” Mayfield said of the pit road decision late in the race. “We didn’t want to get bit this time. I knew all of the guys behind us, a bunch of them were going to take on two to gamble. They had nothing to lose and did that to us early in the race and we couldn’t get around them whether we had four tires or not.

“It was gutsy, but that’s what it’s all about, being on the edge. If you ain’t living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.

“To win a race like that and be racing Dale Earnhardt, last time I won here I passed Darrell Waltrip and now it was Earnhardt. I didn’t have anything for him. He just slowed up a bit in the Tunnel Turn, I got a run on him, and didn’t mean to hit him. Just wanted to rattle his cage a little bit.”

Naturally, Earnhardt was not pleased Mayfield had taken a page out of his playbook and pulled up beside him on the cool down lap and let him know how he felt with a particular one-finger salute.

When asked what he said to Mayfield when he pulled up beside him, Earnhardt responded as only he could, cracking his signature grin and saying, “I told him he was number one.”

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.