LONG POND, Pa. - Jeremy Mayfield offered no apologies Monday after knocking Dale Earnhardt out of Victory Lane with the same bump-and-run move that made Earnhardt famous.
"That's part of it," Mayfield said after winning the rain-delayed Pocono 500 at the Pocono Raceway. "He's got me before, and that's the first time I've gotten him. He can't say a word. I just wanted to rattle his cage a bit."
That was the same excuse Earnhardt gave last August when he nudged leader Terry Labonte in the second turn at the Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway on the final lap to win the Goody's 500.
Earnhardt's rough tactics -- commonly known as getting "Earnhardted" -- is as much a part of his legacy as his seven NASCAR Winston Cup Series championships.
On Monday, Earnhardt finally found out what it's like to get Earnhardted.
Earnhardt's black Chevrolet seemed on its way to winning for the second time this year, although Mayfield closely stalked him from second place during the final 16 laps. As the twosome went through the second turn on the final lap, Earnhardt apparently jumped out of the throttle to throw off Mayfield's momentum.
The plan backfired.
"I didn't have anything for him. Then he slowed up a little bit over the tunnel turn, and I got a run on him," Mayfield said. "And when he went into (turn) three, he really backed off. I guess he didn't see the run I had going. I didn't mean to hit him or anything. I just wanted to rattle his cage a little bit. That's all."
Earnhardt's car veered toward the wall in the third turn after Mayfield rear-ended him, and that allowed Mayfield to make a pass for the victory. Dale Jarrett and Ricky Rudd also seized the opportunity to sneak past to finish second and third, respectively. Earnhardt limped home fourth.
"It was racing, I reckon -- whatever you want to call it," Earnhardt said. "You don't ever have a win until the checkered flag falls. I got beat. I got in the corner and got shoved a little bit and got beat and ended up fourth."
On the cool-down lap, Earnhardt pulled up beside Mayfield near the tunnel turn and extended one finger at the winner. "I wanted to tell him he was No. 1," Earnhardt said.
Few, if any, blamed Mayfield for the way he manhandled Earnhardt in the final turn. In fact, Mayfield seemed to earn praise from fellow competitors.
"I think this means a lot to Jeremy," Jarrett said. "You go up against (Earnhardt), and you come out on top -- you've got to take advantage of those chances, those opportunities because more times than not, you're going to come out of the other side of it."
"You know, you're talking about a lot of other drivers out there wasn't really taking up for him," Mayfield said. "If you watched enough Winston Cup races, you can see why. It's happened to me like eight or 10 times. It happened to me today. I'm smart enough to know now that if you pass him over in turn one, you still have a whole lap to go. If you get him loose, he's going to get you loose back. He does that a lot. It just happened to him, and that's why the other drivers weren't taking up for him.
"You've got to do what you've got to do to win. I've always come back and, you know, let him know I wasn't going to take it. Just because people think and says he's 'The Intimidator.' I'm not intimidated by Dale Earnhardt and never will be. If he comes back and gets me again, then we'll come right back and get him again. I will tell you that right up front."
Mayfield, who earned $121,020, became the third driver to win two races this year. He led for only nine laps -- eight of the first 26 laps around the 2.5-mile, triangle-shaped raceway and the final quarter-mile of the last lap - while averaging 139.741 mph.
The race originally was scheduled for Sunday afternoon, but rain and fog pushed the start back 21 hours later to 10 a.m. Monday.
Reach Don Coble at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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