Big week ahead for Mayfield, NASCAR

AP Auto Racing WriterJune 30, 2009 

CHARLOTTE, N.C.

Jeremy Mayfield will go head-to-head with NASCAR this week in what very well may be his last shot at racing again this season.

If a federal judge agrees Wednesday to lift his indefinite suspension for a failed random drug test, Mayfield has indicated he’ll go straight to Daytona International Speedway to attempt to resurrect his career.

But if the decision goes for NASCAR, then Mayfield is in for a long legal battle that will potentially destroy him both personally and professionally.

As the first driver suspended under a toughened new drug policy, Mayfield was thrust into a career-killing drama that’s mushroomed since a random sample collected May 1 came back positive for what NASCAR deemed “a dangerous, illegal, banned substance.”

He immediately denied drug use, and has blamed his positive result on a mix of Adderall for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Claritin-D for allergies. His explanation, debunked by the program administrator, confused NASCAR’s competitors and forced chairman Brian France to address the drug policy in a rare town hall meeting.

Then Mayfield sued to have his suspension lifted, and things really got interesting.

The past 30 days have been a flurry of legal activity, culminating in last week’s filing of hundreds of pages of documents as both sides prepared for their showdown in U.S. District Court.

Among the paperwork was a six-page affidavit in which Mayfield laid out his side of the story. He said he’s never used methamphetamines and doesn’t know how his drug test came back positive.

He also said the suspension has crippled his career, forcing him to lay off 10 employees, borrow money from family and sell personal assets to meet his living expenses. Mayfield said sponsors won’t work with him, and he’s not been able to send his team to the track the last five weeks.

So Mayfield needs a miracle to get back on track.

The question remains, though, just what does he have to return to?

Mayfield started the season as one of NASCAR’s feel-good stories. Out of steady work since a 2006 firing from Evernham Motorsports, he put everything he had into Mayfield Motorsports. It was a low-budget, understaffed organization thrown together weeks before the Daytona 500 without a prayer of being successful.

Until he raced his way into the biggest event of the year.

Qualifying for the 500 put Mayfield briefly back in the spotlight, as the underdog who needed all the support he could get to go toe-to-toe with the deep-pocketed race teams. But the light began to fade in just a few weeks, in part because of the product Mayfield put on track.

Before his suspension, Mayfield had qualified for just five of 11 races and didn’t have a finish higher than 32nd. His team was going nowhere, fast, and the bills were apparently piling up. Triad Racing Technologies recently filed suit for $86,304.55 for parts, pieces and chassis work that Mayfield owes.

Then came the negative attention from the suspension, the public denials and the tense legal fight that have turned Mayfield into a sponsor nightmare. He’s now toxic, and no company will touch him or his team.

So even if he is reinstated, he’s not heading back to the most stable situation. And, NASCAR will almost certainly continue to fight the already cash-strapped Mayfield, who has hired the most prolific lawyer in Charlotte.

It makes one wonder if the more sensible route would have been quietly serving his NASCAR suspension and then attempting a career-saving comeback. Of course, participating in NASCAR’s “path to reinstatement” would have been akin to admitting guilt, something Mayfield has adamantly opposed since his suspension.

But the process might have been faster and most certainly cheaper.

More important, it couldn’t possibly have damaged his career any worse than what’s been done the last seven weeks.

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