Mayfield: Team is pumped up
But Mayfield doesn't mind. For him, the second-place run was just confirmation that the success of late last season was no fluke. For him, the second-place run was confirmation that the addition of rookie Kasey Kahne and the exit of veteran Bill Elliott was not going to disturb the chemistry or flow of the 19 squad.
"We carried over our momentum from last season," said Mayfield, who finished the '03 Cup campaign with 10 top-12 finishes -- including four top-threes -- in the final 13 races, moving from 29th to 19th in points. "We had a lot of things going for us at the end of last season.
"Tommy (Baldwin) moved into that team as crew chief, and Kasey came in as the driver and they've had their own adjustments to make during the winter. I think both of them have done a great job of picking up where Bill and Mike Ford and those guys left off. I think they've done an awesome job."
Mayfield is now seventh in the standings. And as for Kahne's addition possibly interrupting Mayfield's flow? Not much to worry about there. Sitting fourth in points, Kahne's not exactly slowing the team down. The vibe at Evernham is good -- especially around the 19 shop.
"We came back this week and didn't make any mistakes, and I feel like we're right back where we were at the end of last season," Mayfield said. "Kasey started off that way. Well, not really started off that way because he had trouble at Daytona, but he's had things going his way, and he's done a great job."
Evernham, who first looked to Elliott to guide his new team, is now looking to the 34-year-old Mayfield as the resident veteran. Mayfield believes this latest run will go a long way toward convincing his crew that they are deserving and equal to the task.
"The guys are pretty pumped up," Mayfield said. "They work hard week in and week out. To have a good run like this after the last few weeks we've had, they'll be pumped right back up again. Finishing second will pump them up, and that's a lot easier than having to go back up there and try to pump them up.
"... The team did an outstanding job on pit road today getting me out of the pits," Mayfield said. "It seemed like as the race went on, the tighter we got. I guess Junior and them made more aggressive adjustments. We've had some decent runs the last couple of weeks, but it hasn't been what we wanted. To come back and have a finish like this is awesome."
Interestingly enough, it's the mix of what has and hasn't changed that has facilitated the 19's success. Among the things that haven't changed are many of the notes the team prepared last year for this season.
"It doesn't seem any better or worse for me," Mayfield said. "It seems like we carried on with the same balance we had last year. I think that's helped us as a group, Evernham Motorsports in general. Some of the same setups and same notes are still working for us.
"We've changed them a little bit, but not much. It seems like it's more of a fine line."
But with some of the new rules the teams now race with, the driver's job has necessarily changed on the race track. And those who have adapted quickly are enjoying success now. Among them is Mayfield.
"I think all the drivers will tell you right now that the cars are sliding a little more," he said. "You just get up there and run on the edge or get up there and run in the marbles or run in the wall. There's a lot of stuff going on out there that's a little different. The aero rules are different, so maybe that's got something to do with it."
Whatever it is, Mayfield heads to Darlington Raceway with a top-five under his belt after a couple of top-15s that the team thought should have been higher finishes.
"I'm proud of my guys," Mayfield said, "and I think we can break into the top 10 this weekend, if not win."
Rupen Fofaria is a freelance writer living in Chicago and a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.