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To stay fresh and get some seat time, David Mayhew took his old NASCAR Southwest Tour car to a race in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago.
The car had been sitting idle for the better part of four years. His crew chief took it out for a race last year, but wrecked in the early laps and didn’t finish.
Mayhew didn’t have any better results in the car at Las Vegas. He was running as high as third when the brakes gave out and he had to withdraw from the race.
“The car we took, it sat for a long time, just a mechanical failure,” Mayhew said.
It’s the only racing Mayhew has done since the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race at Phoenix International Raceway on April 8. He finished fifth in that race. He and Greg Pursley each have 320 points, with Pursley holding the first-place spot in the West standings by virtue of his third-place run at Phoenix.
Mayhew, who has never led the series standings in his career, said his team has been doing all it can to prepare its cars for the next stretch of races and maintain its position in the West Series standings.
“We got short tracks coming up, some road courses, and we've been getting the Iowa car ready,” said Mayhew, driver of the No. 17 MMI Services/Ron's Rear Ends/KHI Chevrolet. “We got a few different types of cars we all got to get ready. We’re just trying to get ahead of the game so four or five races from now we are still on track and not struggling to get to the track.”
Mayhew and Terry Henry, his crew chief, are itching to get back to Iowa Speedway, site of Sunday’s Goodyear Dealers of Iowa 200, which will feature drivers and teams from the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West and East. Mayhew finished third in last year’s race at Iowa Speedway, behind NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kyle Busch, who won the race, and Brian Ickler, who recently landed a ride with Roush Fenway Racing for next Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Charlotte. Mayhew was credited with a West Series victory as the highest finishing driver from the series.
Mayhew also won the West stand-alone race at Iowa Speedway in September, leading every lap but one.
“Iowa to me is the best track we go to by far,” said the 28-year-old driver from Bakersfield, Calif. “You really have to drive the heck out of the car and drive it hard the whole time. There’s a lot of banking and the track just seems like it’s got a lot of grip. It’s quite a bit faster than Phoenix. It’s actually a smaller track -- I think our speeds are a lot faster. It’s a real fun place to go to.”
The prestige of the race, the annual spring showdown between the top drivers in NASCAR's top developmental series, has grown with each passing year. In addition to Busch in 2009 and Ickler's victory in 2008, Joey Logano won the inaugural combination race at Iowa in 2007 on his way up the NASCAR ladder to his current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series ride. While the trophy and the celebratory slice of pizza in Pizza Ranch Victory Lane are nice, to be able to be mentioned in the same sentence as those three drivers when talking about winners of one of the series' showcase events can be an even bigger reward.
David Mayhew has been one of the top contenders in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West through two races this season. Getty Images
Preparation is a big part of Mayhew’s strategy this season. He is in his fourth year in the West Series. Experience and patience have definitely benefited him after the first two races of the year.
“He’s really focused on everything,” Henry said. “He’s patient, has a little different attitude. When the green flag dropped, he used to try to go right to the front. Now he wants to have a car that works better than most people’s at the end.”
His patience was tested in the season opener at All American Speedway in Roseville, Calif. He was spun out twice and had to weave his way through a crash on the green-white-checker flag finish to come in fourth place.
“We were pretty slow there at the end of the race and really couldn’t go anywhere,” Mayhew said. “It just worked out pretty good. You didn’t want to be any farther ahead than where we were at the time because that’s where everyone got caught up in the wreck just ahead of us. Everything just kind of happens for a reason. You just never know.”
His patience was tested in a different way at the Phoenix race. One of his tires was going flat and he had to nurse his car around the track until he found an opportunity to come into the pits and change it. Mayhew and Henry said it was lucky they were able to finish the Phoenix race and come away with another top-five finish.
“It was going down, it didn’t go flat,” Mayhew said. “It was one of those things where it could have been a lot worse. We had a real good car, overall just a decent race for us.”
Mayhew’s team, owned by Steve McGowan, is taking the same car from the Phoenix race to Iowa Speedway. Henry calls it the team’s “big track car,” one of seven in the team’s stable.
“Luckily, Phoenix went really good,” Henry said. “No damage to the car. Luckily we didn’t tear it up. We probably have too much time to tinker with it.”
With all his success at Iowa Speedway, Mayhew has one minor quarrel. In the first race at Iowa Speedway last year, Mayhew qualified on the front row with Busch. He said racing into Turn 1 alongside Busch was one of his fondest memories in auto racing.
There are no NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers entered in Sunday’s race. Mayhew said he wishes he could race against the likes of Busch again.
“Going out there in Turn 1 next to someone like that gives you an idea of where you’re at and where you need to be,” Mayhew said. “The level of driving is so high, it’s fun to get out there and compare yourself and try to race with them. You learn so much when you race with someone like that.”
Considering where past winners of this race have ended up, a win Sunday may be Mayhew's ticket to the next step.