BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) – Jeremy Mayfield was happy to leave his winning car behind and walk to Victory Circle on Sunday.

The winner of the chaotic NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Michigan International Speedway blew two tires as he celebrated his first victory in nearly a year with a burnout in front of the frontstretch grandstand.

No matter. Mayfield was still grinning widely when he stepped out of his crippled No. 19 Evernham Motorsports Dodge.

“Every win I’ve ever won in this series is like that, full of drama,” Mayfield said. “Right up to the wire you never know.”

He came out on top of the chaotic GFS Marketplace 400 by running the last 52 laps on a single tank of fuel, but still had enough gas to do a slow victory lap and the crowd-pleasing burnout.

“I blew out the rear tires on that burnout and that was pretty cool,” Mayfield said. “I still had enough fuel to do it.”

Mayfield, whose most recent win came last September in Richmond, was never close to the lead earlier in the race. But one by one, the leaders were forced to pit for fuel – and Mayfield inherited the top spot with six laps to go in the 200-lap event.

The decision to pass up a late pit stop and go for the win was made by Mayfield’s crew chief, Slugger Labbe.

“Man, we had a 20th-place car, and we robbed the bank,” the gleeful Labbe said.

There were seven caution flags in the race, but none in the final 51 laps.

“If there had been a caution with 10 laps to go, we’d have been doomed,” Labbe said. “But history says from lap 150 on this track stays green, and we took a chance on history.”

Mayfield said he was doing everything he could think of to save fuel at the end, but was confident he could make it.

“When those guys made that choice, I knew they were pretty confident I could make it and I was pretty confident in their decision,” he said.

“About the last three laps, the motor was sputtering. I was thinking on that last lap, “It’s close, it’s close, it’s close,’ but we got there.”

It was Mayfield’s fifth career victory and moved him from seventh to sixth in the season points, solidifying his hold on a spot in the upcoming Chase for the Championship.

Many of the teams in the 43-car field had problems with cut tires or engines that overheated when windblown garbage collected on grills, cutting off air to radiators. Mayfield’s Dodge was no exception.

“It was just a cool, windy day,” Labbe said. “You could see the debris coming through the fence. Nothing much you can do.

“Our motor was running 270 (degrees) today. The engine room gets freaked out about 220. It was cooked, but we made it,” he added.

Scott Riggs, fighting to keep his ride, also stretched his gas to the end and finished a career-high second, followed by Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, who had been battling for the lead prior to the late pit stops.

Series points leader Tony Stewart – who came into the race as the hottest driver in stock car racing with five wins in seven starts – never led on Sunday but finished fifth for his eight consecutive top-seven.

Reigning Cup champion Kurt Busch, who dominated during the middle part of the race, wound up seventh, while pole-starter Joe Nemechek, who dropped far back into the pack after a flat tire, came back to finish eighth.

Mayfield moved ahead of Busch in the season points with just three races remaining before the 10-race NASCAR playoffs begin.

Behind them, plenty of questions remained: only 129 points separate eighth-place Ryan Newman, who finished 12th on Sunday, from Jeff Gordon, who somehow managed a 15th-place finish with a terrible car and moved from 13th to 12th in the season points.

Going into next Saturday night’s race at Bristol, Edwards is ninth and Jamie McMurray 10th, followed by Dale Jarrett, just 51 points out of the final spot in the Chase, and Gordon, another seven points back.


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