by Chris Leone, Special To NASCAR commentary and driver pictures, 2012 NASCAR schedule, video, Bench Racing With Steve and Charlie
I do weekly Fantasy Pick'Em columns here at OPR, as well as the occasional opinion and analysis piece. I also provide the IZOD IndyCar Series coverage. For more on that, head to my site, OpenWheelAmerica.com. My Twitter handle is @christopherlion.May 16, 2009 11:12 pm UTC 9 Comments
I know, I know, I must be crazy to defend one of the most loathed and least respected drivers in the entire Sprint Cup garage. I must be out of my mind to make an argument for the first wheelman to fail one of NASCAR’s drug tests. I must be nuts to think that Jeremy Mayfield is a victim just as much as a villain.
But over the past week or so, reflecting on the former Chase driver’s situation, and owing to my underdog bias, I think the guy’s gotten screwed. He’s even been a victim dating all the way back to his times with the former Evernham Motorsports, where a situation that wasn’t really his fault set most of the garage against him.
Hear me out on this. As journalists, however seriously we take the term, we have to attempt to be fair, even when we may dislike the drivers. As Charlie mentioned in his piece, Marc at Full Throttle has done the best at trying to be objective, but because it seems everybody is so against the poor guy, let me attempt to balance the scale by trying to mount a defense.
Mayfield joined EMS in 2002 to try and boost the team’s performance. He worked his way up the ranks for the next three years, gaining points positions every year and making the first two Chases. He, alongside Bill Elliott and Kasey Kahne, helped turn the team from pretender to contender, and was the first driver on the team to make the Chase.
Remember what happened after the 2005 season, when Ray Evernham switched Mayfield’s Chase-caliber crew to Kahne’s car, and gave Mayfield Kahne’s old crew. Kahne won six races, and Mayfield fell out of the top 35 in owners’ points. Then Mayfield gets fired for making an… accurate observation about Evernham not spending enough time with the Sprint Cup team (yadda yadda).
Look, I understand that airing others’ dirty laundry isn’t the most respectable thing to do, but can you blame the guy for feeling like he got the shaft? When the most important guy on that race team switches your excellent crew to a more marketable driver who goes on to win six races with them, when your new crew can’t even keep you locked into the show every weekend, and when the most knowledgeable guy on the team is spending most of his time elsewhere, you’re not getting the fair shake that you deserve. It’s not like Mayfield suddenly forgot how to drive.
Honestly, if I were a Sprint Cup owner, I’d be more inclined to hire the guy for being honest, but I guess I’m the only one.
Fast forward to now, where it seems like the whole garage is against Mayfield for this positive drug test, based on past judgments of his character. Has he honestly rubbed everyone the wrong way? Yes, he’s a challenging guy, at times, but aren’t many of our favorite drivers? It’s not like everyone in the garage is Terry Labonte and never steps out of line.
Hell, does anyone else think that maybe, if his positive result was because of illegal drugs, that maybe he could’ve turned onto them as a coping mechanism because of the rampant dislike for him in the garage?
If anything, this positive test makes NASCAR’s policy look like Swiss cheese next to other sports, and I think that if Mayfield were to challenge it. Two things really make the policy look stupid: first, Ramsey Poston, NASCAR’s spokesperson, admitted that the sport doesn’t have a definitive list of drugs it tests for, and will not release one to the public; second, Brian France says he sees “no benefit” to releasing the name of the substance. (For the record, Mayfield claims it was Claritin D.)
Now, let’s just assume that Mayfield did test positive for Claritin – a NASCAR sponsor, I might add, with Carl Edwards. First of all, there’s no way that Mayfield would know that a prescription he takes would be illegal if there’s not a solid list. (According to France, a list is given to teams, and it can change “as science changes,” but his comments seem to go against what most folks in the garage believe. Is he trying to protect himself, or is everyone else just naive?) This would also bring into question NASCAR’s decision to suspend him as both owner and driver – because what wrong is present in an owner taking allergy medication? (There are warnings on Claritin about operating machinery, which could justify the driver suspension, but not the owner one.)
Second of all, also assuming that Mayfield’s positive test was for a prescription or over-the-counter medicine, there is plenty of reason for NASCAR to release the name. What if others involved in the sport are taking the same thing? It’ll help them by getting them off the drug immediately. Even if it’s not a legal drug, if it is something recreational, perhaps it’d be the first step in getting Mayfield the help he needs.
NASCAR’s argument that drivers and crew members can discuss their medicines with Dr. David Black is ludicrous. There has to be a list. Every other major professional sport with a drug testing program has a list. Without a list, and by keeping the names of the drugs secret, NASCAR could feasibly suspend whoever they wanted pretty easily, without anyone able to get a word in edgewise. The lack of appeal system is also problematic, unless you consider the B sample test a fair appeal.
I would not be shocked if, given all of these obvious issues with the drug testing program that still need to be ironed out, Mayfield makes a challenge sometime in the near future.
If Mayfield’s test was a recreational or performance-enhancing substance, well, forget this, I guess. I’m just saying, don’t judge the situation until you know all the facts. It’s why NASCAR needs to release the list, say what Mayfield tested positive for, and insitute an appeal system.
Until then, and until I know for certain that Mayfield was doing anything performance-enhancing or illegal by the name of the drug, consider me the one guy in the garage standing behind Jeremy, Shana, J.J. Yeley, and the Mayfield Motorsports team.
Give ‘em hell, guys.