MARTINSVILLE, Va. (AP) – Halfway through his second 10-race Chase for the Nextel Cup championship, Jeremy Mayfield is still trying to figure out the best approach.

Mayfield heads into Sunday’s Subway 500 at Martinsville Speedway eighth in the points race, 115 behind co-leaders Tony Stewart and Jimmie Johnson. And while his team’s attitude is good, he said its methods may have to change to improve his chances.

“I think we’ve got the first 26-race deal figured out,” said Mayfield, who qualified seventh for the playoff this season after sneaking in at No. 10 last year.

“We know how to get into the Chase. It’s a whole different deal after you’ve gotten in to win the championship in the last 10 races than it is in the first 26.”

Part of the problem, Mayfield said, could be that the stakes are so much higher for Chase contenders that some teams may become overly conservative in their approach, knowing that pushing the envelope could backfire and all but eliminate them.

“You can’t be afraid in this sport,” Mayfield said. “You’ve got to go all out and lay it on the line. What I mean by that is you can’t be conservative in any area, whether it’s me or the pit stops or the engine department or the chassis or whatever.”

“You’ve got to stay maxed out even more than you’ve ever been to win the championship. We’ve known that, but we’ve got to be better at it yet for sure.”

Mayfield’s assessment comes at an interesting time considering the .526-mile oval is one of the most likely venues in the last 10 where a problem can derail a team’s chances. The track is the shortest and tightest on NASCAR’s premier series, a place where physical driving always makes tempers flare and paybacks become the norm.

And as Mayfield sees it, drivers can prove they are title worthy this Sunday.

“If you’re going to win the championship, you ought to be able to run good here,” he said. “If they took it off the 10-race deal, it wouldn’t be the Chase like it is now. … It doesn’t get any harder than this place right here.”

Among the contenders not dismayed by having to weather the bumping and banging of Martinsville without worrying about taking themselves out of the hunt is Rusty Wallace, who is seventh in points and has won seven times here, most among active drivers.

Wallace, who also is five races from retirement and seeking his second career championship – he won in 1989 – has been eagerly anticipating this weekend.

“This track has been so good to us through the years,” he said.

Wallace also has led 3,632 laps here, and would surpass Cale Yarborough as the career leader if he leads 220 more on Sunday. He’s led 19,941 for his career.

Wallace’s teammate, Ryan Newman, has never finished better that third here in seven previous races, but said he’s planning to maintain an even keel in the race.

Newman is fourth in points, just 17 behind the co-leaders, and not expecting to gamble any more than usual to improve his position as the season winds down.

“Racing is not about chances. Racing is about performance, going out there and doing the best job that you can,” he said. “Part of that is taking chances, but as a whole, you don’t take more chances because, obviously, you’d do that the whole time.”

For some, like Carl Edwards, taking chances isn’t necessary to make Martinsville a difficult track to navigate. He’s learned that in only two previous visits.

“The races I have had here have been disastrous,” Edwards said, “We’ve had wrecks and steering problems and I’ve definitely screwed up my fair share of stuff here.”

A productive test here, however, has him feeling hopeful that he’ll be able to improve on a career record that shows a 24th-place run as his best on the track.

“I think this is really the bottleneck of our championship run here. This is the one we have to run well at to make it,” the Roush Racing rookie said. “After this it will be all blue sky, so it would mean a lot to win here or even run well here.”

The race is scheduled to start at 1 p.m.

AP-ES-10-21-05 1731EDT

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