Thanks to a two-tyre call by crew chief Tony Furr late in Thursday's second Gatorade Duel, Jeremy Mayfield and his skeleton crew raced their way into the Daytona 500 with a ninth-place finish in the qualifying event.

With no prospects for a Cup ride, Mayfield put his own team together in the off-season, but only now might he be able to pay his team members.

"Most of them are volunteers pretty much," an elated Mayfield revealed after the race, "We've got several guys we hired full time. To be honest with you, [they] haven't got the first paycheque. Hopefully, we can pay them now. We've got 15, maybe 20 at the most, including our pit crew, so to be able to get our cars done in such a short amount of time, come here and race like we did with no problems is pretty cool.

"Tony has done a good job of putting together a great group of guys. Everybody on this race team has been on winning race teams, have won races in the past. You know, that experience I feel like helped us more today than anything."

Furr himself wasn't the obvious choice for many when it came to Mayfield setting up his own operation, but the veteran had no doubts.

"If you know Tony, he's a great guy, and he and I just really get along well," he explained, "We just been good friends over the years, since I worked with him at Cale Yarboroughs in the early '90s. Tony is one of those guys that is pretty humble, hasn't forgotten where he's come from. We understand each other.

"I knew that, doing this, I needed to get somebody that understood what I like in a car. It showed today. Our car was terrible to start with but, we come down pit road and, boom, he dials it right in. I haven't had a guy that just understands [me] in a long time, but I knew Tony did. We worked together well. He is a true racer guy. He's not in it for the media. Nothing against the media, but he's not trying to be flashy or nothing like that. He just wants to race hard and work hard. You can't beat a guy like that."

Losing his ride at Gillett Evernham Motorsport provided all the resolve that Mayfield needed to ensure that he at least had a shot at making the 500, but he has also come up with a way of ensuring that everyone on his crew is pulling their weight by giving them a cut of his prize money

"[Losing the ride], that's what motivates me," he confirmed, "If I ever want to retire as a driver, I want to retire on my own, not be pushed to the wayside. I think that's what kept me motivated to do this. I wanted to come back.

"I love NASCAR racing more than anything. It's what I know, it's what I've always done, but, over the years, salaries have all gone up in every direction, and I feel like, sometimes, if you're just getting a paycheque, you're making good money and maybe the incentive to do well is not there. I guess it's not for everybody, but some guys are like that.

"This [scheme] kind of happened by accident, but we just got to keep our budgets where they need to be. The way we're paying the guys is they get X amount of dollars for a salary, and then they get the rest of their money, about 70 per cent [in bonuses]. During the week they get a paycheque, and the rest, the 30 per cent, comes when we make a race. So they're still making great money, but yet we have to make races and run well to do that.

"It makes me feel good, knowing that we've got several guys from Chip Ganassi Racing that were laid off over there. They're all good guys and that's what is kind of sad about the sport right now - there's a lot of good people that really deserve good jobs. It's something I'm very proud of, being able to at least employ ten or 15 guys that had been laid off, to at least help their family and help them out.

"We had a little saying that we weren't going to hire anybody unless [they'd] been laid off for three months, so that they were kind of hungry like we are, ready to go," he joked, "I want to say that the guys that work on our team, everybody there wants to work on it. They're all excited. Not one time has anybody complained about anything.
From outside looking in last year, I'm not going to complain about anything anymore. I don't know who I can complain to anymore. Car owner. He can complain back to me. Makes you appreciate what you got when you sit out for a little bit and realise what you had is gone.

"If I'm on the car and spending money on it, I'm not making anything else, I make races. That's kind of the way they are with me. I feel like that's going to make us a tighter race team. Maybe we'll change that after we get a few races under our belt, get some raises, but we'll work that out in the future. Right now, it keeps everybody in the same boat and making money when we make races."

Making the Daytona 500, however, was the biggest goal for the team right now, and Mayfield admits that, on a night for the underdog with the equally new Tommy Baldwin Racing making the show with Scott Riggs in an identical Toyota, emotions had to be kept in check.

"It's a very unbelievable feeling, to do this," he admitted, "We set out to do this thing... I keep saying 23 days ago, but every day gets a day later. To know where we were at then, how much hard work has been done in such a short amount of time, is just unbelievable. To come here and do this, it's like winning ten races.

"When we started the race, the car was really loose and I thought I'm not sure if I'm going to have a chance to run with these guys. Then, when I came down pit road on the first caution, Tony made all the right changes and the car went right back out and handled perfect. That set us up for the two-tyre change at the end, which was a gamble, but we figured we had to make a run for the 500, had to gamble sometime. It was a gamble being here, another gamble wasn't going to hurt anything. We did that and it paid off, but it certainly wasn't easy.

"I'm still kind of blown away by it. Nobody realises how hard this stuff is. To do what we accomplished is more than what you could ever imagine. You just can't imagine the pressure that's on a driver and a team to do what we did today but, when it's all over with, you finally realise you made the Daytona 500. I couldn't even talk on the radio - it's definitely an emotional day for us."

Delighted to see Riggs make the cut, Mayfield paid tribute to the Baldwin team before going on to namecheck those that had taken a punt on his own operation and been rewarded by seeing their car get into the 500.

"Our cars handled great and thanks to Toyota and Triad Technologies, who built our engines," he noted, "They built Tommy's engines too, and it's just a great day for us. I'm glad to see Scott get in. We both were driving Toyotas, and the cars came from the same stable, too. I think Tommy bought one and we bought another one.

"I can't believe the support we've gotten - that's been the biggest thing for me. For one, Gary Smith at All Sport came on with us. He had no business sponsoring a team like us, coming to try to make the Daytona 500 when I wasn't in the top 35, but he did. He stuck his neck out on the line with us. It's been that way ever since.

"If I knew I was going to get this much support from so many people, I probably would have done this better, would have been better prepared. I don't know if that's a good thing or not. It's been overwhelming, all the NASCAR officials, everybody at NASCAR, everybody in the garage. It's just been unbelievable as far as their support, everybody wanting to lend a hand. Makes you feel good when you come back like that, to feel welcomed back in the sport - certainly for me.

"The fans that I had in the past have all stuck with me, so hopefully we'll make 'em proud again and get this #41 car up front. Then, hopefully, we'll have a good showing the rest of the year for them."