Mayfield said Labbe forced No. 19 team's hand

Updated: October 28, 2005, 7:21 PM ET
Associated Press

HAMPTON, Ga. -- Jeremy Mayfield insists it's business as usual despite changing his crew chief heading into the final four races of NASCAR's Chase for the Nextel Cup championship.

Richard "Slugger" Labbe was fired Thursday as Mayfield's crew chief and replaced for the rest of the season by Evernham Motorsports team director Kenny Francis.

"We're not giving up," Mayfield said Friday as his team prepared his No. 19 Dodge for Sunday's Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. "It's better now than later. I guess that's the way you've got to look at it. We'll be all right."

Mayfield has made the Chase in each of the two years the playoff-style format has been used to determine the champion, but he finished 10th last season and is again 10th, a daunting 216 points behind leader Tony Stewart going into Sunday's race.

"We're going to stay positive and not let nothing get us down," Mayfield said.

Labbe was reportedly talking with at least one other team about a job and had also gone to team owner Ray Evernham to discuss the possibility of changing positions within that organization.

"If you don't want to be somewhere, you don't want to be there," Mayfield said. "We kept hearing the rumors all year long. Money does some weird things sometimes.

"I asked him before and he said he wasn't looking. … You've got to trust each other. When you ask a guy questions and he says he's not looking and you find out later he is, that's not good either. The trust is gone when that happens."

But Mayfield said his team is not giving up on the season.

"We're not going to give up," he said. "I'm not going to sit here and tell you we're going to finish 10th or first, but we're going to do all we can and, at the last race, we're going to say we did all we could."

Testing for tomorrow
The second on-track test for NASCAR's "Car of Tomorrow" is scheduled Monday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, with six or seven teams expected to take part.

Among them will be Hendrick Motorsports, with Brian Vickers driving the first of the cars it has built in the new configuration.

Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Kyle Busch, Vickers' teammate, said his team will not take part in the test, but have an avid interest in what takes place on the 1.5-mile D-shaped oval.

"I don't think NASCAR's done refining it and I don't think any of the teams are, either," Gustafson said. "Definitely, we're nowhere close. It's going to evolve a lot. I hope it does.

"The good thing that they're doing, and I like, is that it needs to an evolution. You need to have a lot of tests on it. We'll do different things and take time because our cars have gotten to where they are [through] 50 years of evolution."

The new cars, which NASCAR officials have said could be in competition as early as next fall's race at Talladega, Ala., are intended to be a major step forward in safety technology. They have a bigger silhouette than the current cars -- wider and higher -- move the driver toward the middle of the cockpit and have extensive new crush zones to absorb energy in crashes.

"It's a good package," Gustafson said. "Obviously, there are things that we can make better, but it's going to be hard to do it in two weeks or a year or so."

NASCAR has said the new cars will give the teams the option of building fewer cars specifically for each racetrack, which many do now. But, Gustafson doesn't agree.

"I think a race team is always looking for an advantage," he said.

Gustafson said the differences now between cars that run on a track like Atlanta and one that runs on the three-quarter mile track at Richmond, Va., might be about three-tenths of an inch in some places.

"Now that may be cut down to a tenth," he said. "But everybody in the garage would take a tenth. So, I think you're going to have just as specific cars for short tracks, superspeedways and intermediates."

Legendary guys
Ready to celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2006, the Crown Royal International Race of Champions has announced its Legends of Victory Lane team.

The four top drivers of the first 29 years, as voted by the fans, are open-wheel star Mario Andretti, NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt, road racer Scott Pruett and short track champion Steve Kinser.

More than 248,000 fans voted online or at the racetracks for drivers in three categories: open-wheel, stock car and road racing. Kinser was the wild card, the fourth-highest vote getter.

Andretti, who won three times in IROC and was the series champion in 1979, said, "I don't think I could have called my career complete without racing in IROC. You always compete against the best of the best."

The four-race all-star series, with champions from different racing disciplines competing in equally prepared cars, winds up its 2005 season Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, with Mark Martin needing only to start the race to wrap up his record fifth IROC championship. That will break a tie for the most titles with the late Earnhardt.

Spark plugs
Greg Biffle's No. 16 National Guard Ford is carrying a decal this week honoring the 48th Brigade Combat Team that is serving in Iraq and has taken a number of casualties. … There have been seven different race winners in the last seven races at Atlanta. … Dodge, which was out of the Cup for many years before returning in 2001, has not won at Atlanta since Richard Petty's victory in 1977.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

ALSO SEE