Jeremy Mayfield snatched a dramatic win in Sunday's GFS Marketplace 400 at Michigan International Speedway after a daring fuel mileage gamble from his Evernham Motorsports team paid off handsomely.

Mayfield was one of only a handful of drivers who played the fuel mileage gamble correctly at the two-mile D-shaped oval as the final 51 laps ran without caution. The driver of the #19 Evernham Motorsports Dodge stopped to top up with fuel just before the final caution period of the afternoon ended and was able from rise from 30th to first in a chaotic final 20 laps.

The majority of the field stopped for fuel when the caution came out for Stuart Kirby's tangle with Travis Kvapil on lap 144, knowing full well that they would have to pit again before the end while others chose not to bother, having pitted for fuel under the previous caution period some ten laps earlier. A canny few, Mayfield included, made an extra stop just before the race went green, which proved to be the correct option.

Until the fuel lottery began, the race had been largely about three things, trash, tyres and Roush Racing.

Although skies were blue for the 23rd round of the 2005 title chase, a blustery breeze swept much of the bags and wrappers usually found in the grandstands onto the track, causing more than half the field problems with litter finding its way onto the radiator grills, resulting in high water temperatures and potentially catastrophic consequences.

Early race leader Kyle Busch was among those who were forced to make extra stops to allow their radiators to be cleared, with Busch, Terry Labonte, Johnny Benson and Robby Gordon all suffering eventual engine failures as a result of the debris.

While tyres have been a story several times this year, for some reason it was left rear tyres that were affected most at Michigan with half a dozen suffering punctures. Unluckiest of all, as has often been the case this year, was Joe Nemechek, who cut a left rear and brushed the outside wall in turns three and four whilst leading the race on lap 75. Nemechek would gamble correctly on fuel later however, and salvaged an eighth place finish.

Once early leaders Busch and Nemechek had hit trouble, Roush Racing took control with Greg Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards, Mark Martin and Kurt Busch combining to lead all but a handful of laps between laps 75 and 190.

However none of the Roush drivers could make the final 52 laps on one tank of fuel, with Kenseth pitting first (from third) on lap 182 and starting a sequence that saw at least three quarters of the field pit during the final 20 laps (including all five Roush entries). Several contenders ran out of fuel in a failed bid to squeeze one quarter of the race out of one tank of fuel, including Dale Jarrett, Kasey Kahne, Michael Waltrip and, most heartbreakingly, Tony Raines.

Enjoying his first run in the independently run #37 R&J Racing Dodge in place of Kevin Lepage, Raines actually assumed the lead on lap 193 and showed no signs of pitting, until he ran dry two laps later and had to coast to pit road. He eventually finished 31st but it was a gallant effort nonetheless.

Mayfield, Scott Riggs and Michael Waltrip found themselves occupying the top three positions with five laps remaining, Riggs closing on Mayfield and Waltrip trying to hold off the rapidly advancing, and fully fuelled duo of Kenseth and Edwards. The battle for third was resolved in Kenseth's failure (just) two laps from home when Waltrip ran out of fuel while Riggs ran out of laps before he could catch a delighted, if slightly surprised Mayfield.

Behind Riggs, Kenseth and Edwards, Tony Stewart raced from 36th place to complete the top five with Biffle, Busch, Nemechek, Brian Vickers and Jimmie Johnson rounding out the top ten.

Mark Martin lost a near-certain top five finish when he missed pit road during the final round of stops, a mistake that dropped him to 17th, one place ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Another solid top five for Stewart not only mathematically guaranteed him a place in the end of the season chase for the championship, it also increased his current points lead over Johnson to 126. Mayfield's first win of the year moves him safely into the chase in sixth place overall.

 

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