Two Soon? Burton & Mayfield’s Fall From Grace

What started out as an “Ask the Insiders” question from reader Rob, took a strange turn while I was doing some research for the post.  Rob emailed us and wanted to know if we could offer some insight as to what happened to Ward Burton’s career and why he couldn’t secure a decent ride.  I immediately thought about comparing him to Jeremy Mayfield because on the surface the two had somewhat similar situations.  As I started digging into their careers, I discovered they share an eerily similar rise and fall.

Neither driver at this point in the 2008 season has a seat in the Cup Series.  Mayfield started the year with Haas CNC Racing but was released after seven races.  He later subbed for the injured Dario Franchitti at Dover in the #40 Dodge for Chip Ganassi Racing.  Burton last raced in 2007 at Martinsville for the now defunct Morgan-McClure Motorsports.  It seems reasonable to predict that both drivers may never again secure a full time in the Cup Series.

While Burton is older then Mayfield by eight years, they both entered the Cup Series around the same time; Mayfield in 1993 and Burton in 1994.  They would both shortly secure rides with well established teams and spend a majority of their careers with that team.  Their career statistics are also very similar.  Mayfield has five Cup Series wins and nine poles in 428 starts.   Burton also has five wins with seven poles in 375 starts.

After making his debut in 1993, Mayfield would earn a seat with Michael Kranefuss’ team in 1996 (which later became Penske/Kranefuss and then Penske Racing).  He would stay with the team until he was released from the #12 car in 2001 and replaced by Mike Wallace for the final eight races.  The following season in 2002, newcomer Ryan Newman would take over the #12 Alltel Dodge.  Mayfield then moved to Ray Evernham’s team replacing Casey Atwood.  Atwood, who was to be the next Jeff Gordon under Ray Evernham, was replaced by the veteran Mayfield after struggling throughout his Cup career.  Mayfield drove the #19 Dodge until 2006 when he was released from Evernham Motorsports and promptly sued for breach of contract.  The proceeding lawsuit was very bitter and it revealed to the public Ray Evernham’s relationship with driver Erin Crocker.  Mayfield followed his time at Evernham up with short tenures at Bill Davis Racing and Haas CNC Racing.

Ward Burton made his debut in 1994 and towards the end of the 1995 season signed with Bill Davis Racing.  Burton would get all of his career wins in the #22 for BDR, including the 2002 Daytona 500.  He left the team during the 2003 season and would finish out the year in the Netzero #0 for Gene Haas.  Burton stayed with the team through 2004, but sat out the 2005 season after he couldn’t secure a ride.  Late in 2006, Morgan-McClure Motorsports signed Burton to take over their famous #4 Chevy.  After struggling for most of the 2007 season, MMM shut down and Burton was left without a ride.  He hasn’t driven since.

Besides having similar career paths and statistics, both drivers drove at various points in their careers for owners Bill Davis and Gene Haas.  They both sit at home now on Sundays hoping, and waiting for their phones to ring.   

Both of these drivers did have success at various points in their careers, but neither was ever really a contender to win a title.  Without continued success year after year, it was only a matter of time until the music stopped and these drivers were left without a chair.  The same can be said about many drivers who currently occupy less then spectacular cars.  Their time will come and they will fade into obscurity.

I believe now that these two are victims of their age.  In today’s NASCAR, the big team owners want young, fearless, charismatic drivers that they can sell to corporate America.  Or, they want big name veterans with a long list of big victories and large fan bases.  Burton and Mayfield don’t fall into either category.  I think another thing that hurt Mayfield was the suit with Ray Evernham and his race team.  The ugliness that ensued certainly didn’t win Mayfield any points with other owners. 

Barring some sort of miracle, neither driver will probably ever strap into the seat of a Cup car full time, let alone a competitive one.  They may be able to continue their driving careers in the Nationwide or Truck Series, but their glory days are over.  The downfall is an unfortunate, but very real part of any career.  These two weren’t the first to suffer such an end, and they certainly won’t be the last.

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24 Responses to “Two Soon? Burton & Mayfield’s Fall From Grace”

  1. Jodi says:

    I doubt that Ward Burton is sitting home waiting for the phone to ring. He has his wildlife foundation that keeps him very busy. He drove that #4 car to help out the McClures. I doubt it was a ride of desperation. To compare Ward Burton to Jeremy Mayfield makes me laugh. That is like comparing apples to onions. Will Ward drive again? I doubt it, but there will never be a more upstanding man both on and off the track to ever sit in the seat of a NASCAR.

  2. Rick says:

    Jodi, I agree. What would make me smile is to see BDR lose CAT and one day hang a “going out of business” sign. I never liked the way it appeared that Ward was treated there at the end. He is too much of a class act for that.

  3. admin says:

    Keep in mind that I was comparing their careers, not their character or personality. And in terms of who and when the drove, and their career statistics, they are VERY similar.

    Its good to hear that Ward is doing well with his wildlife foundation. When I wrote this, I was hoping that I could maybe get some people to comment who maybe knew more about their personal lives outside of racing. Thanks for the info Jodi!

  4. Suem says:

    I agree with Jodi ….Mayfield is looking ..Ward Burton is not . Maybe the comparison would have worked if you would started with that angle .

  5. windowlicker says:

    also, i think that ward’s fan base may be a lot larger than t.c. realizes.

    the one similarity between ward & mayfield that i think t.c. hit on the head though is that it appears that both driver’s are not “owner friendly.” jeremy’s problems with owners is obvious, ward’s not so obvious at first but more so when he was with the #4. i don’t think ward’s talent level dropped off when he was with bdr but the poor performance was a result of bdr not being able to keep up with the multi-car owners resource wise. ward wanted some changes that bdr wasn’t willing to or couldn’t make & anyone with a scanner at the time could tell that some mutual bad blood began to develop between bill davis, tommy baldwin & ward. so ward got canned & went to haas, a start up team that was an affiliate of hendrick, ie. hendrick’s r&d. ward had some glimpses of competitiveness there but the equipment haas was providing with his vast resources/federal tax savings & the shared info that hendrick allowed to go to haas (come on, we all know that hass cars weren’t receiving the #24 & #48 set up notes) was not enough to shoot the #0 from start up team status to a consistent top 20 team. again, ward let it be known that the team could be improved with some changes & that his options were open to getting in another ride. the change ended up being a driver change before the season was over. a change that really improved haas’ results over the next couple of years (sarcasm).

    then we come to the fiasco with the #4. a team who seemed to be 20 years behind haas at the time ward joined. the results were expected & ward was vocal about the changes that needed to happen if that team ever wanted to make races let alone be competitive again. i think ward & #4 match up were mutual last ditch efforts for survival & we all know what happened to both.

    when things started going south with all the owners ward has drove for, he let them know that he didn’t like the direction program was going & he was canned shortly afterward.

  6. Bobby says:

    Burton did not win the 2001 Daytona 500. He won in 2002

  7. Karah says:

    Wow… that is kind of eerie, but a damn good comparison.

    I do agree that Jeremy messed up big time when he got dirty with Ray about he and Erin. No owner with a good car is going to give someone with a so-so driving record a shot when they mouth off too much.

  8. Rick says:

    I thought some of the bad blood between Bill and Ward was due to Dodge info being shared with Toyata truck racing program when Toyota was preparing to enter the NCTS? Dodge file a law suit and apparently pulled back on tech support.

  9. john says:

    To say Burton had the same opportunity as Mayfield is absurd. Penske, Evernham. Then he performed even worse than Ward at Haas and BDR. Statistically they may be similar but that’s like saying two baseball teams with identical records had exactly the same kind of years. If Burton had the opportunities Mayfield had been given he wouldn’t be in his present situation.

    Further, the only other reason Burton finds himself out of the sport is because he committed the worst sin of all….loyalty to a fault. He had other opportunities to move away from BDR but did not, out of loyalty to the guy who gave him his start. Flash forward….the team stinks and the driver gets blamed. Why do you think guys like Elliot Sadler and Dale Jr (partly) left and why guys like Kevin Harvick and Greg Biffle threatened to leave? Because it’s ALWAYS the driver’s fault.

    Comparing Ward Burton and Jeremy Mayfield is like comparing steak to hamburger – sure it’s all beef but….

    Smarten up

  10. Rick says:

    Just read on another site that CAT is leaving BDR and moving to RCR 31 team. I hope CAT provided Bill the same courtesy that he(Bill) supposedly dished out to Ward…cell phone call during the middle of the week advising him he was out. This makes me SMILE:~)

  11. Michael says:

    Karma!

  12. dj says:

    No comparison between Burton / Mayfield. Look for a new Cat commercial with Ward helping out Jeff on how to pronounce “catskidsteerloader”. I’tll be even funnier than Mayfields “is that 93 octane” commercial……………….

  13. Michelle says:

    I agree with your analysis and the same can be said of many other drivers. Either the teams want young/brash or experienced with titles and the stellar resume. Racing as a whole is worse today b/c an entire group of drivers is without a ride. While some of the young drivers may be good, they don’t have the experience that they need when they don’t have a less than perfect car. Nascar needs all 3 groups of drivers to have the good races. There are a lot of drivers in their late 30s/early 40s with excellent experience who just aren’t getting the rides.

    I admit to being a diehard Steve Park fan. He is also in the same position. His victory in the truck series shows that he can still drive and win if given decent equipment. But he is in the same age group with Ward and Jeremy and several others and since he doesn’t have the stellar resume, he is also driving in a different series.

    But the big difference b/t Ward and Steve as compared to Jeremy is that they have a lot of class and don’t air their grievances, whether real or not, in public. I think there is a lot more to their stories about what happened to their driving careers than the media has ever reported.

  14. Mario says:

    It is amazing to me that these owners and sponsers have guys in good rides that Ward never had a chance in. Guys that have never done a thing in Cup. Yeley, Riggs, Gilliland, Sorenson, Regan. Ward did more with less, BDR was always a second tier team. BDR has done nothing since dumping Ward, maybe one top 5. Mayfield can’t top a Daytona 500 win but niether can a lot of drivers.

  15. Phil says:

    Personalities aside, the basic problem both Ward and Jeremy share is that they’re no longer in their early 20s. Owners and sponsors want the next Kyle Busch or Kasey Kahne (bonus points for his giggling teen girls fan base) and neither driver qualifies.

  16. Mario says:

    True Phil, but NASCAR ratings are off and I think it’s because they/sponsers are kicking the good old boys to the curb for the next Kahne and Busch but one problem, teen girls are not their market it’s old guys like me. Also there are only so many young studs as I named a few young duds.

  17. Gladys Gordon says:

    You failed to mention that Jeremy had the #19 car in the chase in ’04 and ’05′ and Ray had to take his crew chief and team away and give it to Kasey so his darling could be in the running. And you failed to mention that Ray was having an affair with a girl young enough to be his daughter and his mind was not on his team. So don’t put all the blame on Jeremy for that breakup. Jeremy can still race with the best of them, given the right car and setup.

    If you are going to compare Jeremy with anyone thank you for
    choosing Ward Burton.

  18. Uncle Bo says:

    One thing with both drivers is the cars changed but they didn’t. In the past 5 years the way race cars are built, and the way they need to be driven, have changed dramatically. Forget about the COT for the moment, I’m talking about suspensions, steering, how to set up a car for any given track, etc.

    Ward could not adapt to the new high downforce cars, which reward a level of driving finesse and aggressiveness he does not possess. Ward struggled at the 1.5 mile “cookie cutter” tracks where front downforce is critical. Think of where Ward performed best…. Rockingham and Darlington, tracks where car control, driving a loose race car and getting the most out of worn tires is critical. Rockingham is long gone and Darlington gets one race a year, replaced by joints like Kansas City, Chicago, California. The Cup series was changing and Ward simply didn’t have the skill to change with it. During Ward’s time at Haas, the Hendrick engineering group was rapidly evolving car design and guys like Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson adapted quickly. Ward didn’t. He is an old skool short track driver where being able to slide the car around is fast. Sad thing is Ward would probably do well in a COT as they’re more what he’s used to, but he won’t get the chance.

    Jeremy’s problem is he is an engineer trapped in a driver’s body. He is very knowledgeable about suspensions, shock technology, chassis set up, etc. He’d probably make a good car chief or even crew chief if he applied himself to race shop operations. Jeremy could never get the most out of a car unless it was set up to perfection. His margin for error was microscopic. If the car was a little off, or he didn’t like something about it, he was junk. Jeremy needed to be a driver who could wheel anything as long as it had 4 wheels and an engine, but he wanted to be technically involved in the car itself. With Jeremy, if the car was 95%, he didn’t have the ability or desire to make up the last 5%. Compare that to Kasey Kahne who can do well if you get the car in the ballpark; he has the skill to get the most out of the car. What killed Jeremy’s career is he doesn’t have what Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart or Kyle Busch have, the determination to make up for what the car is lacking.

    Any time there are major changes in an industry, there are going to be casualties. Ward and Jeremy weren’t the first and won’t be the last. Hopefully NASCAR can stabilized COT development to let teams and drivers get used to it and refine out some of the rough spots which drivers are currently complaining about.

  19. Andrew says:

    Ward Burton is an awesome driver that never got any credit. He’s gotten ripped off everywhere he goes. I mean to get dumped at BDR basically, and then literally get dumped at Haas where he was improving the team with veteran leadership is rediculous. They put in Mike Bliss…oh I’m sure they sold more t-shirts adding him in. I know for a fact that the Burton’s have a very solid fan base. It’s a shame that we are digging for young non-talented drivers now in other series instead of adding proven veterans who can get the job done. Mayfield on the other hand, made the Chase two years and somehow he’s not in Cup competition!? NASCAR has gotten more rediculous and more ‘Hollywood’ the past few years. I like the old days.

  20. Trevor says:

    Ward was one heck of a driver and no one ever felt bad when he pulled the #22 into victory lane. Jeremy was the same way, besides the Earnhardt fans from Jeremy knocking him out of the way in Pocono, no one minded when Jeremy took the #12 or #19 to victory lane. The only thing is Jeremy was given the shaft at Evernham. Evernham traded teams between Kahne and Mayfield and Jeremy got the raw end. Kenny Francis (Kahne’s team director) has even said Jeremy was the best driver he had seen.

  21. Steven says:

    If your job and money were on the line would you not spill the beans so to speak? Jeremy was forced to court by Ray and Jeremy did what any of us would do(fight for his money).
    Jeremy’s got talent as a driver and can still win races if given the chance.

  22. Greg says:

    Ward Burton could have been a star in a good ride. When he got his first win at Rockingham with BDR, it was an upset on the magnitude of the same level as if JJ Yeley, Allmendinger, or one of those guys won a race. From that point on, Ward won the Daytona 500, Southern 500, and several other races in BILL DAVIS equipment. Bill’s lucky if he sees victory lane on television without Ward in the car. Tommy Baldwin hasn’t accomplished much without Ward, either.

    The fact of the matter is that if Ward had Roush, Hendrick, RCR, or any other top-notch equipment, he might have even had a championship. He finished in the top 10 in points multiple times with a team that has recently been locked in a death struggle for the top 35.

    Mayfield had Evernham, Penske, and other quality pieces of equipment and still basically lucked out from time to time. Ward in Evernham or Penske equipment would have seen him with at least 10-20 more wins in his career.

    Ward’s fanbase is loyal, and seems to be still around. I’ve rooted for every car he’s ever driven, and whenever I hear of a driver injury, a little piece of me hopes that Ward is the relief driver and puts on a show. Davey Allison and Ward Burton are my two favorite drivers, and that’ll never change.

  23. greg says:

    Mayfield/Burton Both got the shaft in my oppion Mayfield voiced his concerns and rightly so! He still is one of the best drivers on the market with knowledge and passion to show that he can still win races with the right cars and owner! Open wheelers are missing up this sport it going to lose some of it’s heritage! Hope they both get to drive again soon!

  24. Jerry says:

    You want karma, put Ward in the Cat car at Richard Childress.

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