As traumatic as it may be in the short term, Ray Evernham’s decision to replace Jeremy Mayfield with Bill Elliott this weekend at Watkins Glen may be the best decision for everyone involved.
It’s no secret that Mayfield has become severely disillusioned with the Evernham team this season.
It’s also no wonder.
After winning races and qualifying for NASCAR’s Chase For The Championship in each of the last two seasons, Mayfield had his team yanked out from under him during the offseason, and transferred to the other side of the race shop. Almost instantly, Mayfield went from title contender to 36th in owner’s points, while teammate Kasey Kahne began winning races and contending for the championship.
Coincidence? I think not.
As his 2006 season went further and further in the tank, Mayfield began to speak out more frequently, questioning Evernham’s decision to forego the Nextel Cup garage in favor of protégé Erin Crocker’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series races. Evernham’s “I’m a busy man” explanation fell largely on deaf ears, as Mayfield’s name surfaced in one Silly Season rumor after another. After struggling to a 15th place qualifying effort last weekend in Indianapolis, Mayfield climbed from his Dodge and admitted what everyone already knew, that he will probably not return to the Evernham camp next season.
With that said, what reason could there possibly be for Ray Evernham to keep Mayfield in his cars for the reminder of the 2006 season? Veteran Bill Elliott is available to drive all but three of the remaining Nextel Cup races, and his “Past Champion’s Provisional” ensures that the #19 Dodge will take the green flag every week, despite it’s 36th-place standing in Nextel Cup owner’s points.
With Mayfield gone, Evernham is free to begin working toward 2007, either by doing some valuable R&D work with Elliott at the wheel, or swinging a deal with Robert Yates Racing to get Elliott Sadler in harness a couple of months early. Either way, it’s a major step-up from slogging along with an unhappy, lame-duck driver.
Mayfield is well respected in the Nextel Cup garage, and he’ll have his pick of seats next season. Michael Waltrip and Bill Davis are already arm-wrestling for his services -- each offering a shiny new Toyota Camry for him to drive – and there may be other suitors, as well. Both Waltrip and Davis are capable of fielding cars for Mayfield this season, if he can obtain his release from Evernham. He may not be able to drive a full-blown Toyota right now, but he will be able to establish a relationship with many of the crewmen he’ll be working with in 2007.
The longer it takes to make these changes, the further everyone will be behind the eight-ball, making me think that Evernham’s decision to cut the cord and send Mayfield packing wasn’t such a bad idea, after all.
UPDATE: Jeremy Mayfield filed a request for an injunction in North Carolina Superior Court in Iredell County Monday, seeking to prevent his removal from the UAW/Dodge Dealers Dodge. A hearing was held Friday in North Carolina, with Mayfield and Evernham agreeing in principle to settle the issue without further ovolvement by the courts. A statement released Saturday morning said, "Jeremy Mayfield, Mayfield Motorsports, Inc., and Evernham Motorsports LLC have agreed to end their relationship, effective immediately. The parties agree that it is in their mutual best interests to go in different directions and wish each other success in the future."
Elliott Sadler said this weekend that he may be able to assume the driving duties in the #19 car soon, pending a release from Rober Yates Racing. Our sources here at Watkins Glen say the details of that release could be worked out in time for Sadler to steer the #19 next weekend in Michigan.