After 11 full seasons and 337 starts, Winston Cup team-owner Chuck Rider is as determined as ever to become a winner in the elite stock car series.
In the last year alone, Rider has spent more than $1 million to improve his Bahari Racing team's operation, adding an in-house chassis assembly program, new machinery, race shop additions and key personnel.
"We're as complete as any multiple-team shop on the circuit today," Rider said. "The investment we've put in here (at the shop in Mooresville, N.C.) is very, very sizeable. We've added another 7,500 square feet. We'll probably have to build another building before the year is out because we want to put a chassis dyno in also.
"When you're looking at the top teams, they're basically doing everything in-house. They're building their chassis, they're doing their engine program and they have all the people to do the general assembly. We felt that if we wanted to move ourselves up to the next bracket, we need to do the same. We're basically self-contained right now."
The determination that Rider exudes is the reason that Derrike Cope signed on as the driver this year after Johnny Benson, who won rookie of the year honors for Bahari two years ago, moved to Jack Roush's five-car stable.
"When I came over to Chuck's, I looked real hard at what I wanted to do, and I wanted to be somewhere where I could stay for a while and really grow and have people behind me," Cope explained. "Chuck made an enormous amount of capital expenditures this year to try and take this team to the next level over a period of years.
"The sport is ever-changing, and you have the multicar teams with all the resources. We're a one-car entity, but there aren't many teams out there that have what we have here."
Cope, recovered from two broken ribs sustained in a crash earlier this season, has only one finish better than 22nd so far this season, coming in 15th in February at Rockingham.
UP FRONT: Jeremy Mayfield has done everything so far this season except win.
Mayfield will head into the May 24 Coca-Cola 600 leading the Winston Cup point standings, a fact that has numerous people in NASCAR shaking their heads in wonder.
Last year, his first full season for what was then Kranefuss-Haas Racing, Mayfield had only three top-fives and a total of eight top-10s on the way to 13th in the season points.
So far this season, the 28-year-old racer has seven top-10s and five top-fives in 10 starts. That includes a runner-up finish two weeks ago at California Speedway.
A lot of the momentum the team has now began when Roger Penske bought out Carl Haas to become a partner with Michael Kranefuss in the operation. That made Mayfield a teammate of Penske Racing South driver Rusty Wallace, and the two teams have shared considerable information already.
"You talk about a great feeling," Mayfield said. "It's incredible to know you've got a race team and a race car that is competitive week-in and week-out. We haven't won yet, but we've certainly been close.
"We feel like we've kind of won. We've done everything but get the checkered flag."
"Obviously, the biggest change was us teaming up with Rusty and Penske," Mayfield said. "We had a lot of changes -- everything from the car number to the color to the new owner.
"Over the winter, we looked at what our strong points were and what our weak points where, and we looked at their team and we kind of matched everything up. A lot of our weak points were their strong points and a lot of our strong points were their weak points. So we've both helped each other."
Wallace is also off to a strong start, although a blown engine in California knocked him out of the point lead and all the way to fourth place in the standings.
OUT OF ACTION: With both Tony Stewart and Bobby Labonte busy with other driving commitments, Joe Gibbs Racing will skip today's NASCAR Busch Series race at Nazareth, Pa.
Stewart, who has posted two second-place finishes in the No. 44 Pontiac this season, including one in last Saturday's race at New Hampshire, is taking some time away from stock car racing to compete in the Indy Racing League's Indianapolis 500 on May 24. Qualifying for the event was scheduled this weekend.
Stewart, one of the favorites to win this year, is the defending IRL champion and won the pole for last year's Indy 500.
Labonte, Stewart's teammate, who won a Busch Series race earlier this season when Stewart had another IRL commitment, will be unavailable to fill in this week because he was participating in The Winston all-star event for the NASCAR Winston Cup Series at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Labonte will drive the Gibbs Pontiac in the May 23 Busch Series race at Charlotte.
"I am disappointed to miss two Busch races, but I'm glad Bobby will be in the car at Charlotte," Stewart said. "When he drove the car to victory at Darlington, I was glued to the television in the IRL transporter cheering him on. I hope I have the opportunity to do it again while I'm at Indy.
"Winning the Indianapolis 500 is an important achievement for me and I am looking forward to the challenge. It's regrettable it causes conflict for the Busch team but with the week off, they can focus on the Charlotte race."
Labonte, now a star in the Winston Cup series, has nine Busch Series victories. He has garnered 47 top-five and 86 top-10 finishes and was the series champion in 1991.
STAT OF THE WEEK: There have been nine different winners since The Winston race first ran at Charlotte in 1988. The only multiple winners thus far have been Dale Earnhardt, the late Davey Allison and defending champion Jeff Gordon.