Mayfield says owner's absence impacting race team

JOLIET, Ill. -- Jeremy Mayfield isn't happy with the way his
team is performing this year. And he doesn't seem to think team
owner Ray Evernham is taking enough of a hands-on approach to
fixing what's wrong.

"I haven't talked to Ray much," Mayfield said Friday morning.
"We don't see Ray much. I don't know. He encourages us when he is
around but we haven't seen him much lately."

Mayfield said he is surprised that Evernham -- who has been known
for his intense, innovative management style since winning three
championships as Jeff Gordon's crew chief -- hasn't been at the
"He used to be on top of stuff like this pretty hot and heavy
and he's letting it take its course, I guess," Mayfield said.

Mayfield added a sarcastic jab: "He is here today, isn't he? I
don't think he is here today."

Evernham wasn't. Reached by cell phone at Kentucky Speedway on
Friday evening, where he was overseeing developmental driver Erin
Crocker in the ARCA series, Evernham said he and Mayfield already
had talked to clear the air.

"I don't think he's upset with me," Evernham said. "I'm sure
he's frustrated that we're not performing."

Noting that several high-profile NASCAR team owners don't attend
every race, Evernham said his team's expanding business interests
have him away from the track more often.

"The reality of it is, I have got commitments to other sponsors
and things," Evernham said, adding that he will be at Chicagoland
Speedway for Sunday's race but is likely to miss a handful of races
this year. "I don't plan to be at every Cup race for the rest of
my career."

When it comes to Mayfield and the No. 19 team, he isn't missing
much. Mayfield's best finish of the season is 13th, and he is 32nd
in the Nextel Cup points standings.

Calling 2006 the "worst year I have ever had," Mayfield said
he is struggling to establish chemistry with new crew members.

"If we can get in the top 25 we'll be lucky," Mayfield said.
"We're in a hole right now, man. We just have to dig ourselves out
of it."

With high-profile rides available at two new Toyota teams,
Michael Waltrip Racing and Red Bull, for next season, Mayfield
sounds as though he would entertain the idea of leaving Evernham if
he didn't have a long-term contract.

"I've got a contract through next year and I've got two years
after that, so I can't talk to nobody," Mayfield said. "So I'm
sitting here like a sitting duck. What I do know is we've got to
get running better."

Evernham said Mayfield hasn't said anything about wanting to out
of his contract.

"Not to my knowledge," Evernham said. "And again, we're good
enough friends (that) we can sit down and talk about anything like